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Committee's Northern Pass decision criticized as hasty, lauded as 'victory for the little guy'

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 01. 2018 7:33PM
Supporters and opponents of Northern Pass distributed buttons this week at the Site Evaluation Committee deliberations in Concord. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)

Supporters of the Northern Pass hydro electric project were shocked and disappointed by the Site Evaluation Committee decision on Thursday, and the speed with which it was rendered.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier. “This is going to set northern New Hampshire’s ability to revive itself back into the dark ages. We need a variety of different types of industrial projects to revive our economy here, and that was one of them.”

Berlin city officials had testified on behalf of the project, telling the SEC that the proposed $200 million Forward NH fund for economic development and a $7.5 million North Country Job Creation Fund would boost the local economy and serve the public interest.

Eversource also pledged to spend an estimated $50 million to upgrade the “Coos Loop,” the main transmission line serving the region.

“All the funds that were available from Forward NH and the jobs creation fund, I guess that gets flushed down the toilet,” said Grenier.

“I’m hoping Eversource and Northern Pass challenge the decision and rectify whatever weakness they had in their application. For Berlin’s economy it was vitally important, and I think for the long-term energy independence for New England it was very important.”

Opponents who have fought the project for more than seven years characterized the decision as a victory for the little guy.

“We’re pleased, to say the least,” said Jane Difley, president/forester of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. “This stands as a great victory for New Hampshire, our forests, and our landscape. It’s been a long, arduous battle, but New Hampshire has always been worth it.”

A big loser in the decision is the city of Franklin, where a direct-current to alternating-current transformer was to be built, increasing the city’s tax revenue by 50 percent.

“We weren’t counting on the Northern Pass money but we were hoping for the Northern Pass money,” said Judie Milner, acting city manager. “If Eversource decides to appeal, I expect that we will assist in satisfying the SEC concerns, so we can move forward with this economical and green project. We were expecting $5 million to $7 million in additional tax revenue. That would be transformative for the city.”

Gov. Sununu ‘stunned’

Gov. Chris Sununu, an avid supporter of the project, had some harsh words for the SEC.

“Frankly I’m stunned and disappointed by both the timing and outcome of today’s decision from the Site Evaluation Committee,” he said. “To deny 1,100 megawatts of clean, renewable energy and more than 1,000 jobs for New Hampshire is a mistake.”

State Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, whose district encompasses the North Country, said the SEC decision should be respected.

“If anything, we proved today that the system isn’t rigged,” he said. “Those with the resources and connections weren’t able to do a slam dunk. The people had a slum dunk. We have to respect the voice of the people and the process that elected officials set up. The SEC did its job and should be commended.”

Brief deliberations

Most opponents cited the fact that the decision was made in a case that dragged on for years after such brief deliberation.

“Today’s decision by the SEC to deny the Northern Pass project’s application after only two days of deliberations is shocking and disappointing,” said Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

“New Hampshire faces serious energy challenges and we can’t afford to shut ourselves off from solutions like Northern Pass that will lower energy costs while also creating jobs and new tax revenue.”

Skelton criticized the SEC for failing to provide Northern Pass the opportunity to address concerns raised during the process.

“The SEC process has been bogged down by delays since its start and the sudden dismissal of the project further highlights the flawed nature of this process,” he said. “The business community, on multiple occasions, raised concerns that the Counsel for the Public was not adequately representing our views as is required by state law.”

Skelton, like others, predicted the decision will have a chilling effect on energy development in New Hampshire.

“Our energy challenges are not going away and, in fact, will only worsen and we are now left with the prospect of wondering whether our state approval process is capable of allowing potential solutions to move forward,” he said.

Decision ‘alarming’

That sentiment was echoed by Kevin Flynn, communications director for the state Business and Industry Association.

“The committee’s unanimous decision displays an alarming lack of understanding of the energy challenges New Hampshire and the region are facing,” he said.

“As a result of today’s decision, New Hampshire businesses — and manufacturers in particular — will begin peeling away from our state in favor of opportunities in regions where electricity is more affordable and reliable. If that doesn’t ‘unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region,’ we don’t know what does.”

Flynn was alluding to one of the criteria the SEC used to deny the project.

“With no major infrastructure proposals in the wings and New Hampshire’s newly confirmed reputation that regulators won’t give projects a fair vetting, we are at a loss at how our state’s electricity needs will be met going forward,” he said.

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