EASTON — Citing a precedent in New York and echoing a recommendation by the town’s Conservation Commission, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on Thursday said the Northern Pass transmission project should be entirely buried beneath New Hampshire’s roads.
Appearing at Easton Town Hall Thursday afternoon, just minutes after having hiked through the Gingerbread Road area to get a closer look at how Northern Pass would affect this town of 270 people, Ayotte said the beauty of the White Mountains should and could be preserved and that the Northern Pass could proceed if the transmission lines were buried “along an existing highway corridor.”
That point, as well as a suggestion that Northern Pass consider a second international crossing other than that at Hall’s Stream in Pittsburg, was made in an Aug. 18 letter from Ayotte and the rest of the state’s Congressional delegation to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Northern Pass would bring hydroelectricity from Quebec into the U.S. along a 187-mile long line in New Hampshire. Northeast Utilities, the corporate parent of Public Service of New Hampshire and Northern Pass Transmission LLC, has an agreement with HydroQuebec for it to lease the Northern Pass transmission lines.
Proponents say the $1.4 billion project will create 1,200 construction jobs, put 1,200 megawatts of renewable electricity into the New England power grid, and, over its 40-year life, will generate some $1 billion in new municipal property tax revenues in New Hampshire.
Opponents of Northern Pass have criticized its intrusion into and despoilment of the North Country, both esthetically and economically.
A presidential permit is needed to allow Canadian power to come into the U.S. and the review process also involves the Department of Defense and the Secretary of State, both of which, Ayotte explained, typically defer to the DOE in energy-transmission cases.
Ned Cutler, who chairs Easton’s Board of Selectmen, said that in 2012 the Town Meeting voted unanimously to say it opposed Northern Pass unless it was buried underground. He said yesterday that several property owners have already asked the selectmen how to get abatements because they expected a drop in the assessed values of their properties should Northern Pass go through town above ground.
In 2013, the Easton Conservation Commission took upon itself the task of finding an alternative route for Northern Pass through town and last November it came up with a recommendation that sounded a lot like Ayotte’s on Thursday: bury Northern Pass along the Interstate 93 corridor between Bethlehem and Woodstock, thereby entirely avoiding Easton and the White Mountain National Forest in which it sits.
The bury-it-under-the-road approach gained traction earlier this month when the DOE, in reviewing the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express, which would bring power from Canada to the New York Metro Area, said burying 141 miles of the 336-miles of transmission lines under existing highways would be a good idea.
Both Cutler and Conservation Commission Chair Roy Stever said they’d like to see Ayotte push for burying Northern Pass and Ayotte said she would.
The technology exists to bury the transmission lines, Ayotte said, adding that the Easton Conservation Commission recognized that fact as did the DOE with the Champlain Hudson Power Express project.
What the conservation commission proposed just in Easton should be done down the entire length of Northern Pass, said Ayotte, and the DOE should require Northern Pass to study it, and then, ultimately, it should do it.
“We’re worth it,” said Ayotte, noting that the New York transmission project was also intended to run above ground, but didn’t.
After a burst of polite applause died down, Ayotte continue that “This is obviously a very important issue to the Town of Easton and the state.”
“This is about all of us,” she said, “not just the North Country.”