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BANANAS and NH's energy needs

December 17. 2014 10:29PM

The notion that public opposition is stalling much-needed energy projects in New England has gotten a lot of attention lately.

It was the subject of a panel discussion at the state’s Business and Industry Association energy seminar earlier this month, where a former commissioner of the Public Utilities Commission used the acronym BANANAS to describe the New England dynamic — Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Not so, according to many of the individuals involved in opposing the Northern Pass hydroelectric project. They point to the New England Clean Power Link, a 154-mile underwater and underground transmission line that would deliver 1,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Quebec through Vermont and into the New England grid.

“These guys are moving fast, and without significant opposition,” said Jack Savage of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which has led opposition to the Northern Pass.

The project developer, TDI New England, filed its state permit application in Vermont on Dec. 8.

TDI, which stands for Transmission Developers Inc., is owned by the investment giant Blackstone out of New York, and is also developing the Champlain-Hudson Power Express in New York state, another project that is moving smoothly toward approval.

TDI has established a route for the New England Clean Power Link and has permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to negotiate rights of way. The company applied for its Presidential Permit in May (needed to import energy across international borders) and its Army Corps permits in October.

Scoping hearings on the project in Vermont drew small crowds with no opposition.

Vermont would benefit most from the project, but because the New England power system is an integrated grid, TDI says the New England Clean Power Link will reduce energy prices across the region.

In their Dec. 8 filing with Vermont, the project sponsors claim it will reduce energy costs on average in New Hampshire by $30 million a year from 2019 to 2029.

“We’re pushing hard to get the project fully permitted by the end of next year,” said TDI New England CEO Donald Jessome.

Speeding along

The fact that TDI could go from a concept unveiled in October 2013 to a fully permitted project two years later belies the notion that nothing can be built in New England, according to Susan Schibanoff, a leader of the opposition to Northern Pass, now entering its fourth year bogged down in controversy.

“The New England Clean Power Link is speeding along with little opposition,” she wrote in response to the BANANAS comment. “It started long after Northern Pass and will finish long before (if Northern Pass ever finishes). Why? NECPL has designed a low-impact, community-friendly project. It has consulted with towns, actually listened to landowner concerns and adjusted the project accordingly.”

Jessome credits the company’s progress so far to two factors — technology and outreach.

The company is laying two-thirds of the 150-mile line under Lake Champlain, with the remaining 50 miles under ground following existing rights of way along roads. Jessome said it’s easier and less costly to lay power lines under the mushy soil at the bottom of a lake than it is to dig into New Hampshire granite.

“Another thing is the tremendous amount of outreach, almost to the point where people are getting sick of talking to us,” said Jessome. “We have met with every select board, held six open houses, multiple scoping meetings, and a symposium with state agencies and environmental groups to listen to their concerns.”

The company has also dangled a host of incentives to create what Jessome called a “win-win” for everyone. Those include:

• An $82 million Lake Champlain Phosphorous Clean Up Fund.

• A $40 million fund to support habitat restoration and recreational improvements in Lake Champlain.

• A contribution of $40 million to Vermont’s Clean Energy Development Fund.

It may be premature to uncork the champagne, says Sandra Levine, an attorney with the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation, which often stands in opposition to such projects.

“It’s far too early to say there’s no opposition,” she said, “but compared to other projects I’ve seen, they’ve done a good job of reaching out to folks who might have concerns and at least making an effort to address them.”

Northern Pass proposed a $7.5 million fund for job creation in Coos County, pledged $200,000 for a cell tower in Groveton, and agreed to bury eight miles of the line as it enters New Hampshire from Canada.

Lauren Collins, a spokesperson for Northern Pass developer Northeast Utilities, said both projects are needed.

“New England governors have agreed the region needs to both increase and diversify its energy supply by adding as much as 3,600 megawatts of renewable energy, primarily Canadian hydropower,” she said. “New Hampshire and New England’s energy future depends on projects like Northern Pass, TDI’s Clean Power Link, and much more.”

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