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Kathy Sullivan: Defeat of Northern Pass is a win for New Hampshire

February 05. 2018 7:13PM

DRIVE ALONG the Trans-Canadian Highway to Quebec City, and you will understand why the people of northern and central New Hampshire have fought so hard for years to stop Northern Pass.

For mile after mile, Hydro-Quebec transmission lines run through farmland. The transmission towers are massive. They are ugly. Running towers and lines like this through beautiful, undeveloped areas, and through New Hampshire communities, would have irrevocably ruined part of what makes New Hampshire special.

That is why we owe a debt to the people who worked to stop Eversource from turning New Hampshire into a transmission superhighway that would provide electricity primarily to Massachusetts and other states. Because of their efforts, the Site Evaluation Committee found that Northern Pass did not meet one of the criteria necessary for approval.

I get that the New England region has high energy costs and needs reliable renewable energy sources. But there are other economically feasible projects that would not damage New Hampshire. After the SEC decision, Hydro-Quebec itself told the media there were two other solid proposals, TDI Inc. and Central Maine Power, that continue to be interested in the Massachusetts contract to bring power from Canada to the Bay State. Another proposal from National Grid would bring wind power to Massachusetts.

That 20-year Massachusetts contract is crucial to Eversource, but provides little benefit to New Hampshire. The estimates of cost savings from Northern Pass to the average Granite State ratepayer ranged from $5 to $20 per year. That is a small payment for the damage Northern Pass would have caused. But the return for Eversource would be huge. Northern Pass is an expensive project. Eversource already has spent about $250,000,000 on the project without one shovel of dirt turned over. The Massachusetts contract was crucial to the return on that investment.

Northern Pass never made sense for New Hampshire, but that would not have been known without the work of the people from West Stewartstown to Plymouth to Concord to Deerfield. They posted signs, researched property records, filed as intervenors, wrote letters, signed petitions, and attended SEC hearings. They gave up work, spent their own money, and traveled miles to Concord. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests took a deep breath and bought up conservation easements to try to block Eversource’s route.

It would be easy to compare the people who fought so hard to the Jedi going up against the Evil Empire, or David slaying Goliath, or any of the other little guy facing unbeatable odds stories. But that does not do them justice. They did not have laser swords and the Force to help them. Just Granite State grit.

And we also should thank the seven members of the Site Evaluation Committee who voted unanimously in finding that Eversource had not met the criteria that it would not negatively impact orderly development in the region. They did their job, listening to testimony from all sides, before making a reasoned and considered decision.

Eversource did not see it that way. It attacked both the SEC and the process in a public temper tantrum. Expressing its “shock and outrage,” it called the process “broken.”

What was broken was the Eversource submission to the SEC. Business owners in Plymouth pointed out the adverse consequences they would suffer from construction traffic. Eversource’s traffic engineer admitted that she had not analyzed the adverse impacts of construction traffic, but they would “discuss” it. That type of blasé attitude is just one example of how Eversource failed to meet the criteria regarding orderly development.

The fight is not over, however. There will be the inevitable appeal. Based on Eversource’s focus on a “broken” process, we can expect them to push the Legislature to pass a bill tilting the scales against the public and in favor of big utility companies. Northern Pass has faced bipartisan legislative opposition in the Legislature. However, Gov. Chris Sununu, whose donations from Eversource executives were an issue in the Republican gubernatorial primary, supports the project.

So, the fight is not over, but for a few days, the people who said no to Northern Pass deserve to celebrate. They fought, and they won.

Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

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