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Site Evaluation Committee won't decide whether to reconsider Northern Pass until May

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 12. 2018 8:55PM
Northern Pass opponents (mostly in orange) fill the gallery as the Site Evaluation Committee meets in Concord on Monday. (DAVID LANE/union leader)

CONCORD — A state committee isn’t likely to decide whether to resuscitate the proposed Northern Pass hydroelectric transmission project until sometime in May, the committee’s attorney said Monday.

The Site Evaluation Committee deferred making a decision on requests to reopen deliberations on the proposed project after rejecting it in February.

The committee also voted Monday to suspend its Feb. 1 oral decision to reject the proposed $1.6 billion project until the committee issues its written decision sometime this month.

Committee attorney Michael Iacopino said after the half-hour hearing that filing deadlines likely would push the timeline into May for the committee to reconvene to decide on any motions, including any requests to throw out the committee’s verdict and resume deliberations.

Monday’s committee vote means Northern Pass can’t move forward with its proposed 192-mile project.

“This essentially means they’re kicking the can down the road,” project foe Jack Savage said afterward.

The SEC denial — and now the committee putting off any decision on reopening deliberations — puts into question whether Northern Pass can finalize a 20-year deal with Massachusetts officials by late March to supply hydropower and give the project a guaranteed buyer for its electricity.

Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said he didn’t know how Monday’s decision would affect the project’s prospects in Massachusetts.

Northern Pass officials had asked the committee to toss out its oral decision and resume negotiations, saying the committee should have considered all four criteria needed to secure a state certificate to green-light the project.

Several committee members Monday discussed whether to reopen deliberations, but no one requested a vote to proceed with more deliberations.

“What I was thinking was we would finish the deliberations that people have criticized us for not finishing,” said committee member Kathryn Bailey, who also sits on the state Public Utilities Commission.

“I’m not sure it’s going to change the outcome,” Bailey said.

Committee members previously reached a general consensus that Eversource had adequate financial, technical and managerial capability to assure construction and operation.

The committee said project officials hadn’t met their burden in showing that the project would not unduly interfere with the region’s orderly development. The SEC had cited concerns over potential harm to tourism, property values and businesses along the route.

Two other criteria the committee didn’t address or did so minimally were whether the project would serve the public interest; and whether it would have an unreasonable adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety.

“I think reopening the deliberations would be a good idea because I think that understanding where the committee sits on those other factors we didn’t address would be constructive,” said member Patricia Weathersby, a private attorney. “My opinion still stands that they did not meet their burden concerning orderly development of the region.”

SEC Chairman Martin Honigberg, who also chairs the PUC, said he thought the committee acted properly.

“I don’t think we’re in any way obligated to deliberate on the other factors,” Honigberg said. “I said when I voted to continue deliberations that I thought it was probably better administrative practice to do it, but that we weren’t obligated and I continue to believe that.

“It’s not our role to advise someone on something that’s hypothetical,” Honigberg said.

Two of the committee’s seven members were absent.

Regarding the committee’s decision to suspend its oral decision, Murray said: “We hope it is an indication that the SEC will evaluate the required statutory criteria, as well as thoroughly consider all of the conditions that could provide the basis for granting approval.”

The hydroelectric transmission project would run through more than 30 communities and would include about 60 miles buried underground.

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