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Eversource executive: Northern Pass ratepayer billing 'unlikely'

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 13. 2017 11:43PM
Bill Quinlan of Eversource, right, gets questioned by Tom Pappas at Monday's Northern Pass hearing in Concord. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — An Eversource executive Thursday conceded a scenario existed in which New Hampshire ratepayers could be asked to pay for part of the Northern Pass project, an option he called “highly unlikely.”

More than 100 people, including dozens of project opponents, converged for the leadoff hearing for the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which will decide in July whether to issue the certificate required for the $1.6 billion project. It would bring hydropower from Canada to New England starting in late 2019 or early 2020.

The day’s sole witness, William Quinlan, Eversource president of NH operations, said there were no plans, even if Northern Pass received permission, to make New Hampshire ratepayers pay for any of the project.

But if ISO New England, operator of the region’s bulk power system and wholesale electricity marketplace, declared a section of the line as necessary to keep the lights on, that would open the door for Northern Pass to ask New Hampshire ratepayers to pay a portion of the costs, Quinlan said.

Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said later that the unlikely scenario would cost New Hampshire ratepayers “much less” than $9 million.

Northern Pass, which would bring 1,090 megawatts of electricity to New England, enough to power 1.1 million homes, plans to recover its costs through the revenues received for use of the transmission line to deliver energy into the New England wholesale market.

Quinlan, meanwhile, said Northern Pass is developing a guarantee program for land owners bordering the project who meet certain criteria and sell their homes within five years of the project starting operation. He said nine property owners appear to meet the rules.

The home must be within 100 feet of the edge of the right-of-way and the owner must not have a view of a power infrastructure structure now, but would have one if the project gets built.

Job creation, grants

On the topic of jobs, attorney C. Christine Fillmore, who represents eight New Hampshire towns, said the project’s economist counted one construction worker employed for three years on Northern Pass as three jobs — part of a project estimate of 2,600 jobs created during construction.

Quinlan said the estimate seemed right compared with other completed Eversource projects. He said the project will hire “a significant percentage” of New Hampshire workers.

The count will include construction workers as well as some employees of “local establishments that we’ll support” through purchasing goods and services.

Quinlan said project officials continue to look at tweaking designs of structures to hold the lines, such as color and finishes that would stand out less.

“The overall route is determined,” said Quinlan, who will return for more questioning today. “We are working on a local level to enhance the design when possible.”

Several parties questioned projects receiving grants from the North Country Job Creation Fund, which Northern Pass created.

The project’s North Country Job Creation Fund gave out six grants, including money for Dancing Bear at River Edge Inn in Colebrook to install siding.

A Lancaster child care center got money to expand its capacity, while Greetings Jewelers in Berlin received funding for a desk-top welding machine.

“These are small businesses that are seemingly looking to grow their businesses and create jobs,” Quinlan said.

Buried lines

Thomas Pappas, counsel for the public, questioned Quinlan about why some of the 60 miles of transmission lines were buried, something critics wanted to see throughout the 192-mile route.

“And they designed it underground because they didn’t have the land rights to go overhead. Isn’t that correct?” Pappas said.

“I think that’s true. Yes, again, I was not part of that decision-making,” Quinlan said. “I believe that was a consideration.”

The hearing “was really a clash of Northern Pass’ marketing and the reality of what the project is,” Jack Savage, a vocal critic with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said in an interview outside the hearing.

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