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Another View -- Tiler Eaton: The Northern Pass project would help, not hurt, NH's economy

July 10. 2014 11:13PM

IN RESPONSE to Kathy Sullivan’s July 8 column, “NH energy projects should produce wins for everyone,” I am discouraged to see one of the state’s influential political figures attacking a promising proposal to address the energy crisis in New Hampshire and across New England. The fact is, we need Northern Pass and its clean, affordable and reliable hydropower.

In the next few years, New England is expected to lose roughly 10 percent of its current electricity capacity. Recent plant closings and inadequate energy infrastructure are being blamed for New England’s rising energy prices, which are now some of the highest in the country. Without adding new sources of energy to the grid, these prices will continue to climb, directly impacting residents, businesses and the local economy.

New England’s six governors are attempting a regional approach to solve our looming energy crisis because the New England states are part of the same energy grid. When plants in Vermont and Massachusetts shut down, as we are now seeing, there are impacts not only on New Hampshire’s electricity rates but on the region’s ability to keep the lights on. This winter saw hundreds of mill workers in New Hampshire and Maine laid off because some factories could not afford to operate due to extremely high energy costs. Many New Hampshire homeowners and businesses saw their monthly electric bills jump dramatically due to energy market price spikes. The power from Northern Pass will enter our energy grid and have the net effect of increasing our energy supply, lowering electricity prices, and potentially saving jobs while also creating new ones.

Sullivan dismisses Northern Pass as a possible solution despite its potential to provide savings and reliability through a constant source of clean energy. She asserts that Northern Pass will devastate the New Hampshire economy but does not offer any evidence to her claim. She fails to mention that the vast majority of the transmission towers are between 85 and 95 feet high. Sullivan also ignores the direct benefits to New Hampshire, including the $28 million in local, county and state taxes Northern Pass will generate each year. For many communities along the route, these funds are desperately needed.

Northern Pass will create 1,200 jobs during construction. The project has pledged to hire New Hampshire workers first by offering jobs for both union and non-union workers alike. Sullivan dismisses the pledge, saying there is no guarantee of jobs. Fact is, if Sullivan and other opponents are successful in opposing projects like Northern Pass, that will be one way to guarantee that no jobs will be created. It is irresponsible for Northern Pass opponents to continue to dismiss the jobs associated with this project. I personally know many New Hampshire residents who are ready for the opportunity to work in their home state, and for a project they can believe in.

There are pros and cons to every energy project. Across New England we are witnessing fierce debates over new proposals for more wind, natural gas, etc. Can we continue to reject one proposal after another? It is important to keep in mind that the majority of Northern Pass’ route is within existing power line corridors where transmission lines stand today. The remaining portion of the route includes an underground section, and land that the project purchased or leased from private landowners.

Finally, Sullivan repeats unsubstantiated claims that an overhead transmission project will hurt tourism, property values and our “quality of life.” The challenges facing New Hampshire and New England are severe and we must stick to the facts. If we cave to hyperbole and ignore realities, energy costs will continue to rise for NH homeowners and businesses, and we will have lost an opportunity to control our future and to protect generations to come.

Tiler Eaton of Nottingham is second district representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 104 and a journeyman lineman for close to 30 years.

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