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Tourism experts on the hot seat at Northern Pass hearing

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 31. 2018 9:57PM
Supporters and opponents of Northern Pass distributed buttons this week at the Site Evaluation Committee deliberations in Concord. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)



CONCORD — A state committee considering Northern Pass on Wednesday criticized several project experts offering opinions about tourism and property values.

A survey asking people what attributes were important if visiting New Hampshire destinations had one member from the Site Evaluation Committee questioning a tourism expert’s methods.

“Surprise, surprise, nobody checked that they wanted to come to New Hampshire to see power lines, so I don’t know how you can conclude from that question that power lines aren’t going to have an impact on tourism,” said Kate Bailey, who also serves on the Public Utilities Commission.

“Of all the witnesses, Mr. Nichols was the least credible of all,” Bailey said.

The seven-member committee is deliberating whether to approve the $1.6 billion project, which would transmit hydroelectric power from Quebec into New England. The line would go in service by late 2020. The 192-mile route, which runs through more than 30 communities from Pittsburg to Deerfield, includes 60 miles of buried lines.

Several members criticized Mitch Nichols, whose Washington state firm concluded in a report that the proposed transmission line “will not have a measurable effect on New Hampshire’s tourism industry.”

Member Craig Wright questioned why Nichols included information from four listening sessions that each drew only a few people. He also challenged some of his comments.

“To make a statement that people expect to hit traffic and transmission lines, I don’t think, that’s what people expect when they go to northern New Hampshire.” Wright said.

Energy savings

The committee, which resumes its third day of deliberations at 10 a.m. Thursday, has scheduled 12 days of deliberations that run through Feb. 23. It can approve, reject or approve with conditions.

Turning to energy costs, Bailey said experts differed on projected energy savings to New Hampshire consumers from Northern Pass.

A project expert had listed $80 million in annual savings, since reduced, and Bailey compared that to another expert who maintained those savings could be as little as $8 million if the project fails to qualify for certain so-called forward capacity payments.

Power suppliers compete in auctions and obtain a commitment to supply power and in return get a market-priced capacity payment. That would help lower electricity costs and increase savings for consumers.

The smaller the electricity savings, the less of a boost to the state’s economy, Bailey said, meaning potentially hundreds of new jobs predicted by computer modeling might not get created over time, Bailey said.

Lower energy costs since the initial projections also helped shrink the earlier predicted savings.

Bailey said economic experts on both sides predicted some energy savings for New Hampshire customers — perhaps as little as $5 a year for someone averaging 621 kilowatt hours a month.

“All other things being equal, if there’s any savings from the energy market, then it on net has a positive impact on the economy,” Bailey said.

Bailey said she didn’t find James Chalmers, a Montana economist, appraiser and expert in assessing the impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects on the value of real estate, “very convincing at all.”

Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray declined to comment on the committee’s deliberations.

Tipping point

Committee Chairman Martin Honigberg, discussing how the project would alter some areas, said: “You have a very different feel if you would put in an additional line, an industrial tower in what is today wooden structures that are 60 feet high you put 100-foot or 90-foot towers adding to that corridor is going to look different.”

“I keep coming back to the scale, scope and nature of this project and not only is it significantly different than what’s in the corridor, in order to place it in the corridor, they need to make other changes as well,” said member Craig Wright, who also works at the Department of Environmental Services.

Member Rachel Dandeneau, an alternate public member, said members must decide how much change is too much to accept.

“There is definitely a tipping point. I think the struggle that I have is that’s subjective,” she said. “Every single person in this room would give a different number for the height of a tower that would make a difference for them, what their tipping point would be.”

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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