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Tiny section of proposed route sparking latest verbal sparring about Northern Pass

Sunday News Correspondent

April 25. 2015 9:20PM
The Washburn Family Forest in Clarksville is the latest verbal flashpoint between proponents and critics of the Northern Pass Transmission project. Eversource, the company that wants to build a 187-mile transmission system to carry hydroelectricity from Canada through New Hampshire and into the regional electrical grid, has said its proposed route includes a 500-foot section beneath the Washburn Family Forest, something that the land owner, the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests, vehemently opposes. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

CLARKSVILLE - Although considered controversial by detractors along much of its proposed 187-mile length, it's a 500-foot-long underground crossing here that is sparking the latest verbal sparring between proponents and critics of the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project.

According to Eversource, which earlier this year changed its name from Northeast Utilities and is the parent company of the former Public Service of New Hampshire, the NPT is a $1.4 billion transmission infrastructure project that will bring 1,200 megawatts of energy generated by Hydro-Quebec.

Many affected

Crossing through 31 Granite State communities, the direct-current NPT would use 147 miles of existing rights-of-way, 32.25 miles of new rights-of-way, and two underground sections, one of which is through the Washburn Family Forest here, just south of Pittsburg.

NPT would carry the electricity to a converter facility in Franklin and then onto Deerfield where it would enter the New England power grid.

Eversource says that NPT would help meet "the region's increasing demand for power while also substantially decreasing carbon dioxide emissions," in addition to creating 1,200 new jobs during construction that would pump upwards of $300 million into the New Hampshire economy. Over its estimated life, NPT would reportedly pay some $1.1 billion in local, state and county taxes.

Opponents of the NPT, however, charge that it is an elective project that predominantly benefits Hydro-Quebec and Eversource while scarring the landscape with overhead transmission lines up to 145-feet tall and diminishing property values. The opponents, among them the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, wants all of the NPT buried along existing transportation corridors, or failing that, not to be built at all.

Two campaigns

On April 14, the society launched a campaign to raise $475,000 for its "Trees NOT Towers" legal defense fund; several weeks previously, Eversource announced that it had donated $3 million as its share of a partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

Known as Partners for New Hampshire's Fish and Wildlife, the effort between Eversource and the NFWF set off alarms at the Forest Society, which pointed out that six years earlier, the NFWF had given it a $500,000 grant to acquire and permanently conserve the 2,100-acre Washburn Family Forest.

Asked about the seeming conflict, Rob Blumenthal, who is NFWF's communications director, did not address it directly.

"Specifically, through Partners for New Hampshire's Fish and Wildlife, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will work with the public and private sectors to cultivate science-based conservation strategies and to invest in cost-effective projects," Blumenthal said in an e-mail.

He added that the foundation - some of whose other partners include energy companies BP, ConocoPhillips, Enbridge, PG&E Corporation, Phillips 66 and Shell Oil Company - "does not engage in advocacy, litigation or any other activity that would attempt to influence positions or policies taken by our grantees or our conservation partners."

Money for growth

On April 21, in what the Forest Society said was another example of Eversource's trying to curry favor for the NPT, the Coos County Job Creation Association (CCJCA) announced it had received $200,000 from Northern Pass Transmission LLC, an Eversource subsidiary, for projects "that will support economic growth and job creation" in Coos County.

Formed in 2013, the CCJCA, according to a press release, will receive up to $7.5 million from Eversource: $1 million when the NPT "receives acceptable federal and state permits and actual construction commences, and $500,000 each year thereafter, until it has received $7.5 million total."

Jack Savage, Forest Society spokesman, said the CCJCA and Eversource's partnership with NFWF both indicate a lack of broad-based support for NPT.

Spreading the money

"Northern Pass as proposed offers few real benefits to the people of New Hampshire, and these programs are tacit recognition of that by Eversource," Savage said in an e-mail Friday. "They haven't been able to garner favor with their project, so they're starting to throw money around. And given that it's a $1.4 billion project overseen by a Connecticut CEO who makes $9 million a year, it's very little money at that."

Savage added that, "Ironically, the things they tout, temporary jobs, for example, would be enhanced by full burial of the proposed transmission line. If they want to make progress permitting Northern Pass, they would probably be better off using Hydro-Quebec's money to invest in some shovels and a road map."

Martin Murray, a spokesman for Eversource and Northern Pass, said the funding for CCJCA and Partners for New Hampshire's Fish and Wildlife ". is consistent with Eversource's decades-long commitment to being a good corporate citizen and a dedicated environmental steward. These funding decisions have been made thoughtfully, based on identified state and local needs, and with an approach that puts the dollars in the hands of those closest to the opportunities to determine how best to use them."

Murray said that "Northern Pass continues to work with partners across New Hampshire to support economic development and environmental causes, and we will continue to do so as we move along in the permitting process" for NPT. "While we provide the funding, we look to local leaders to determine how the money should be spent in their communities," he said, noting that "We're proud to support efforts to increase cell coverage for rural areas, create jobs, and improve the environment."

In a swipe at the Forest Society and other NPT critics, Murray, who on Friday said there was no change to the proposed NPT route, including going underground through the Washburn Family Forest, said Eversource is "aware that some who oppose Northern Pass are attempting to intimidate local environmental groups and some businesses who might be considering whether to take part in certain programs that we have supported.

"These programs are all good causes," said Murray, "and it would be a shame if opponents of Northern Pass are successful in bullying potential partners."

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