PLYMOUTH — The N.H. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the state’s rejection of the Northern Pass project is being roundly interpreted as good news in this White Mountain town.
“It’s extremely pleasing and appropriate news,” said Steven Rand, who learned of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a Friday morning email from the Conservation Law Foundation.
A year ago, the Site Evaluation Committee denied the $1.6 billion, 192-mile powerline from Pittsburg to Deerfield that would have brought Quebec hydropower to Massachusetts, after 70 adjudicative hearings. The SEC ruled that Eversource failed to meet its burden of proof that the project would not unduly impact the orderly development of the region, asserting that the utility’s experts on tourism, property values and land use were not credible.
Rand, the third generation owner of the 111-year-old Rand’s Hardware on Main Street, had a front row seat in 2017, when a couple hundred people gathered on the Plymouth Town Common across the street from his store, to protest Northern Pass as members of the SEC walked the downtown where part of the proposed transmission line was to be buried.
“I wonder sometimes if the tail is wagging the dog or the other way around — the tail being Eversource. This time it appears the mass of the dog was able to overcome the velocity of the tail,” Rand said.
He is among those who are not convinced that Friday’s ruling is a death blow to Northern Pass.
“The balance of power is really skewed in favor of corporate personhood,” Rand said.
Eversource could develop an alternative plan and file an amended application. A change in membership of the SEC or in the makeup of the state’s highest court could also come into play.
“We are so in debt to monied interests and so hamstrung by legal corporate personhood that actual citizen rights are hugely diminished,” said Rand, who served one term in the New Hampshire House, representing Grafton District 8.
Another potential impact, according to Rand, is that Eversource shareholders could fault leadership for spending so much money on the project that “some heads could roll.” But the amount of money already invested, Rand said, could also prompt the utility to “double down on their bet.”
Bill Bolton, a Plymouth selectman, said he was pleasantly surprised by the court ruling.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome. We were gearing up to redouble our efforts in working the SEC,” he said. “I think everyone is breathing a sigh of relief and going to celebrate for at least a weekend.”
Bolton said an energy infrastructure corridor has been established on I-93 and Routes 89 and 101. He said he believes that if Eversource comes back with a new plan, state law would require Eversource to build within that corridor. Precedent has been set, Bolton argues, with Liberty Utilities’ proposed Granite Bridge project, a liquefied natural gas pipeline between Manchester and Stratham to be buried along Route 101.
Bolton, who has announced he is making a second bid for the District 2 state Senate seat, said that if he is elected, he would commit to working to prevent Northern Pass from advancing.
“I am very happy to hear the outcome and that Gov. Sununu has said it’s time to move on and look for other sources of clean energy,” said Sandra Jones, who chairs the Plymouth Area Renewal Energy Initiative.
Jones said she lives within a mile of where towers were slated to be placed as part of Northern Pass.
Some of the transmission lines were to be buried beneath Plymouth’s Main Street and would have been especially disruptive to local businesses during the construction, she said.
In affirming the SEC’s denial, the high court’s opinion authored by Associate Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi made specific mention that an SEC subcommittee had concluded that, among other things, the “testimony and evidence demonstrated that construction of the Project would have an impact on traffic in affected communities and that the degree of the impact would vary,” noting an “area of particular concern is the impact of the traffic on orderly development of Plymouth.”
The subcommittee expressed concerns about construction impacts, such as “inadequate traffic management strategies, combined with a lack of communication and consideration of business access,” and found that the petitioners did not meet their burden of proof on “whether the degree of traffic interference caused by construction would not unduly interfere with orderly development of the region,” reads the 31-page ruling.
The crux of Eversource’s appeal pointed to what it called a failure on the part of the SEC to do the work required by law and its own rules. They argued that the SEC strayed from normal procedures and made an arbitrary and unreasonable decision. In Friday’s unanimous decision the justices disagreed, holding that Eversource failed to show the denial order was “unreasonable or unlawful.”