Site Evaluation Commission Hears Concerns on Northern Pass

The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Commission (SEC) and Eversource held a public information session on the proposed Northern Pass transmission line project at Londonderry High School last week.

The transmission line would bring to the region 1,090 megawatts (MW) of energy from Hydro-Quebec’s hydroelectric plants in Canada.

The public utility filed its application for the Northern Pass transmission line project with the SEC on Dec. 18, after which it was legally required to hold within three months public information sessions in each of the five counties affected.

Eversource officials said although impacts to Londonderry are limited, the Town was selected to host the information session for Rockingham County because the high school is easily accessible from throughout the County and could accommodate the crowd anticipated.

The SEC and Eversource held a session in Franklin before meeting with residents in Londonderry, and the remaining informational sessions were to be held in Laconia on Jan. 14, Whitefield on Jan. 20 and Lincoln on Jan. 21.

Northern Pass would enter New Hampshire from Canada in Pittsburg, extending 192 miles to Deerfield, with more than 80 percent of the line to be built on existing transmission line corridors or underground along public roadways.

The remaining portion would be constructed on land the project has leased, according to Eversource.

The transmission line would enter Rockingham County in Deerfield, where it would connect with the New England Power Grid at the substation on Cate Road.

Of the approximately 100 people who attended the meeting in Londonderry, only a few were residents of the Town.

State Rep. Doug Thomas, R-Londonderry said that as a member of the House Committee on Science, Technology and Energy, he attended to gather more information about the project.

Thomas said he has only spoken to one resident with concerns about Northern Pass – an abutter to the Scobie Pond substation, at which Eversource plans to install a new capacitor bank to support the voltage on the system.

The abutter, who is horseshoed by Eversource’s property, will have to negotiate the relocation of his driveway to accommodate the upgrade, according to Thomas.

Eversource representatives told the Town Council at its Sept. 14 meeting that extensive surveys conducted of the area show the expansion should not increase sound produced at the substation.

ISO New England has required the upgrade as part of Northern Pass.

In events anywhere in New England near the Scobie Pond substation, the capacitor bank would be used to support the system shortage, according to Project Manager Brian Bosse.

Residents who attended the informational session expressed greatest concern over protecting the State’s natural and historic resources.

Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan said the company has focused on adjusting the route and modifying the design – reducing structure heights and corridor widths where possible – to avoid and reduce visual impacts.

Erick Berglund of Deerfield argued that while the cost of the transmission line infrastructure and construction won’t be borne by the State, “the real cost, what I object to and many other people, is the cost to the environment, conservation lands, historical and cultural assets to this state.

“Please don’t use that statement (the cost of the transmission line won’t be borne by the residents of New Hampshire) unless it’s qualified to mean what I just said, we’re talking just about the line,” he said.

Berglund further called for greater consideration of an alternative route in the Interstate 93 right-of-way.

But Mark Hodgdon, a private attorney who has served as a consultant to the Department of Transportation, explained that burying the transmission line along I-93 would result in substantial environmental impacts.

In a letter to the Department of Energy, Northern Pass Transmission commented that construction of the project underground along the I-93 corridor, including through the White Mountains National Forest and Franconia Notch State Park, is a “completely infeasible” alternative due to the resulting impacts associated with the particular restrictions under federal and state law that would apply to construction along I-93.

“Among other things, the legal and practical challenges associated with such an undertaking are insurmountable; the route entails unanalyzed, but potentially significant adverse environmental consequences in one of New Hampshire’s most treasured locations; and the I-93 alternatives offer no offsetting environmental benefits that might make those alternatives worth the challenge of pursuing them,” Northern Pass Transmission wrote.

In terms of benefits to the State as a result of Northern Pass, Quinlan said the transmission line project would bring $30 million annually in new tax payments, a $2.2 billion increase in New Hampshire Gross Domestic Product during construction and beyond, and 2,600 jobs during construction.

Bosse told the Council the project would increase Londonderry’s tax base by $11.8 million.

“We’re hoping we come in and do our work but minimize impacts to the Town of Londonderry, so the Town can enjoy the projected tax revenue from these projects,” he said.

Northern Pass is also expected to reduce carbon emissions by about 3.3 million tons per year and improve the North Country electric system capacity by up to 100 MW, removing constraints to existing renewable energy, such as wind, biomass and small hydro.

Noting the draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) completed by the Department of Energy estimated an $18.3 million reduction in electric costs for residents of New Hampshire as a result of Northern Pass, Londonderry Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz said the $80 million annual reduction for New Hampshire business and residential customers Eversource quoted at the informational session is “a really nice mark-up.

“I suspect we need to take a hard look at these numbers,” he said.

Speltz also noted Eversource and each of the agencies represented on the SEC Committee tasked with considering the Northern Pass transmission line “work in their own stove pipes,” and urged the Committee to “look at this project in an integrated fashion.

“Find someone as a consultant independent of the applicant that can pull all these various facts together and make a decision answering, will this project result in a greater benefit or greater impacts to the State of New Hampshire,” he said.

With Northern Pass anticipated to be in service by late spring 2019, Bosse said if the permitting process goes according to plan, construction could begin at Scobie Pond in 2017, with the upgraded facility to come into service in late 2018.

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