Good News: NH Senate Passes Reforms to Strengthen Energy Facility Siting

Mar 31, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

New Hampshire is on its way to making important reforms to its process for reviewing proposals for energy projects. Last week, the New Hampshire Senate gave its approval in a unanimous voice vote to Senate Bill 245, a bill that significantly amends the law governing the state’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), the multi-agency body that reviews applications to locate major energy facilities, like pipelines, electric transmission lines, wind farms, and other power plants, in the Granite State. The bill now goes to the House.

Site-Evaluation-Committee

State House dome in Concord (photo credit: flickr/Timothy Valentine)

The Senate action follows prior legislative efforts to reform the SEC in 2012 and 2013. These efforts culminated in Senate Bill 99, which commissioned a comprehensive review of the state’s siting process and standards. In the fall of 2013, the state’s Office of Energy and Planning (OEP)—the agency tasked with the review under the bill—undertook a study of the SEC and convened an intensive statewide stakeholder process that collected feedback from residents, developers, industry, non-governmental organizations, and state agencies. (Along with a diverse group of stakeholders, I was honored to serve on a “coordinating committee” that provided advice and feedback to OEP as the work progressed.)

During the process, a remarkable ad hoc group comprised of CLF, the state’s environmental community, and the companies developing wind projects in New Hampshire came together to offer a consensus set of recommended changes, including reducing the number of SEC members from the current 15 to a more manageable number and establishing professional staff and funding for the body.

The ad hoc group’s suggested improvements were consistent with the results of the broader stakeholder process. As OEP Director Meredith Hatfield pointed out in her cover letter, the final Senate Bill 99 report (PDF) identified a number of reforms with broad support, including making the SEC process more efficient and less cumbersome, increasing opportunities for public and community engagement before and during the process, and strengthening the SEC’s authority to ensure that proposed projects benefit the public.

Following the review, lead bill sponsor Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) and bill co-sponsors Senator Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton), Senator Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth), and Senator Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) led an effort that engaged a wide range of stakeholders, including CLF, to craft legislative language that would deliver the reforms identified during the Senate Bill 99 review. As always, the devil is in the details, and in the words of Senator Woodburn, getting to a final bill was “very, very difficult.” But the Senate work ultimately provides a package of meaningful changes to the SEC and its process:

  • The bill reduces the size of SEC to 9 members, including 7 state agency officials and two public members-at-large appointed by the Governor.
  • The bill strengthens public participation by requiring project information sessions in host communities—both before and after a formal application for a project is submitted.
  • The bill provides initial funding for a professional staff and calls for a permanent funding plan to be considered during the next biennial state budget.
  • Under the bill, all projects must be found to “serve the public interest.” This is a crucial reform to ensure that the SEC looks rigorously at the public benefits of a project in the context of any adverse impacts on the state’s resources.

CLF strongly supported the bill in concert with our environmental community partners at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Nature Conservancy; you can read our joint testimony here. As with all major legislation, the final Senate bill reflects a number of compromises and leaves room for future tweaks, but we fervently agree with what Senator Bradley said in the Senate press release on the bill:

This legislation is the result of months of conversation and compromise among environmental protection organizations, industry, regulators, and elected officials. Together, we were able to put together a well thought-out bill that creates a more responsive, more efficient Site Evaluation Committee that can protect both our environment and our state’s energy infrastructure well into the future.

With so many challenges ahead of us in the transformation of our energy sector, CLF commends the New Hampshire Senate for finding common ground and strengthening the process through which the state makes critical decisions regarding its energy future. CLF looks forward to working with stakeholders and House members to strengthen the bill as it works its way through the larger chamber. 

Worth Remembering: Northern Pass Would Mean Big Changes in the White Mountains

May 8, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

(photo credit: flickr/crschmidt)

(photo credit: flickr/crschmidt)

With the Northern Pass “new route” drama entering its third year (Northeast Utilities executives once again failed to announce any progress on last week’s investor conference call), it’s important to remember that all we’ve been talking about is the northernmost forty miles of what is a 180-mile project that stretches from the Canadian border to southeastern New Hampshire.

The “new route” will not change one of the proposed Northern Pass project’s most troubling segments: approximately 10 miles through the White Mountain National Forest, within the towns of Easton, Lincoln, and Woodstock. It goes without saying that the Forest is one of New Hampshire’s most treasured public assets: a vast and magnificent wilderness that is among the most accessible and visited natural wonders in the nation and the cornerstone of the state’s tourist and recreation economy. The Forest is an awe-inspiring place, and its ongoing stewardship is one of those things that make me profoundly proud of this country.

Project affiliate Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) has a “special use permit” from the United States Forest Service for an existing transmission line, built in 1948, which is largely comprised of H-frame wooden poles standing about 50 feet tall. Northern Pass developer Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) is now seeking a special use permit to remove the existing line and build two new sets of towers (one carrying the new Northern Pass transmission line and the other carrying the existing line) with a “typical” height of 85 feet.

Proposed Northern Pass tower design (existing towers in background)

Proposed Northern Pass tower design (existing towers in background)

You can read NPT’s permit application here (PDF) and download its attachments here. The project’s construction would impact important wildlife habitat and ecologically sensitive high-altitude wetlands, and the new more prominent towers would cross the Appalachian Trail and impact a number of the Forest’s other signature hiking areas and viewsheds. It’s also worth noting that the project’s failure to provide meaningful greenhouse gas emission reductions falls particularly hard on the Forest, where climate change is already shifting seasons, reducing snowpack levels, and disrupting mountain ecosystems in significant ways.

It will be up to the United States Forest Service – and specifically the supervisor of the White Mountain National Forest  – to decide whether to approve NPT’s permit application. In particular, the Forest Service must determine whether granting the proposed use is “in the public interest” and consistent with the current management plan for the Forest, which includes special protections for the Forest’s most important natural and scenic resources. This decision will follow the United States Department of Energy’s environmental review of the Northern Pass project as a whole, which CLF has been fighting to improve since the project was first announced in 2010.

Earlier this year, a diverse coalition of conservation organizations, including CLF, along with a grassroots group, several Forest communities, and the regional land use planning commission wrote to the Forest Service, urging the agency to take all available steps at its disposal to ensure comprehensive and rigorous scrutiny of the Northern Pass project and a full analysis of all reasonable alternatives, especially those alternatives that avoid or minimize impacts within the Forest.

Our letter (PDF) highlighted the Forest Service’s stewardship obligations and the special and stringent standards for granting a special use permit. We explained that the Northern Pass project, as proposed, is very different from an ordinary utility transmission line constructed to extend service or improve system reliability; the project is much more like a private commercial development, with no specific policy or law encouraging or requiring its development. We suggested that it was critical for the Forest Service to take these features into account as it weighs whether the project would be consistent with the “public interest” and the Forest’s management plan. Finally, we recommended that the Forest Service avoid relying on data collected by the first contractor hired to conduct the federal environmental review of the project, which was withdrawn by NPT after a public uproar, and that the Forest Service exercise its prerogative to order Forest-specific studies and to scrutinize and question all data and analysis presented by the current contractor team, the objectivity of which is in serious doubt.

Oddly, the federal environmental review of Northern Pass seems to be moving forward even as the project is stalled and the northernmost route has not been disclosed. As field work, studies, and analysis proceed, the Forest Service is hearing from many voices registering strong opposition to Northern Pass’s special use permit application, through efforts like ProtectWMNF.org and this recent citizen-generated petition. If you are concerned about the impacts of the Northern Pass project on the White Mountains, you can add your voice through those resources or by filing a comment with the United States Department of Energy.

A Message to the Energy Industry: The Demise of Northern Pass 1.0

Apr 26, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Earlier this week, I brought a message from New Hampshire to a gathering of major players in the Northeast’s energy industry in lower Manhattan, the Platt’s Northeast Energy Markets Conference.

wall street

(photo credit: flickr/Mathew Knott)

Remember Northern Pass, that novel Northeast Utilities transmission project that would import 1,200 megawatts of large-scale hydropower from Hydro-Québec?

The project, as it was conceived and pitched to the region and the industry, Northern Pass version 1.0 if you will, is dead.

I ran through the key financial elements of the original proposal, what I called the Northern Pass gambit:

  • $1.1 billion to build a new transmission line, funded wholly by Hydro-Québec.
  • A generous “return on equity,” or guaranteed profit on project costs, of 12.56% for project developer Northeast Utilities, paid by Hydro-Québec.
  • Easy and inexpensive siting approvals for the line, which would be located solely in New Hampshire, mostly in corridors controlled by Northeast Utilities subsidiary Public Service of New Hampshire, the state’s largest and most powerful electric utility.
  • Ample profits that would cover all Northern Pass costs and much more for Hydro-Québec, which would sell its hydropower in New England’s lucrative wholesale electric market, where energy prices were, in 2008 and 2009 when Northern Pass was conceived, orders of magnitude higher than Hydro-Quebec’s costs of generating power.
  • Unlike New England-based renewable projects, no public or ratepayer subsidies.

These elements looked good to investors on paper. But they have, one by one, fallen apart, and they no longer add up. I took the audience through the Northern Pass reality:

  • Years of a stalled siting process, as Northeast Utilities tries to purchase a new route for the northernmost 40 miles of the project, where PSNH has no transmission corridor, with repeated missed deadlines for announcing the new route and restarting the federal permitting process.
  • Increasing costs – an estimated additional $100 million in project costs already, even without accounting for any new route, mitigation commitments, or any underground component.
  • Growing doubt (even more pronounced than a year ago) that Hydro-Québec can recover Northern Pass development costs and its hydropower costs (which will only increase as costly new dam projects continue in northern Québec) through energy exports, given that wholesale energy prices in New England are now much lower.
  • Opposition by the vast majority of communities affected by the project, 33 at last count, local chambers of commerce, political leaders, and a diverse, well-organized grassroots movement of residents.
  • No support from any New England environmental group.
  • Mounting risk to NU’s lucrative return on equity, with the underlying deal expiring in 2014, and any renewal subject to federal regulators’ recently more skeptical view of such incentives.

And finally, I gave the eulogy for the key financial element of Northern Pass 1.0 – the one that attracted so much interest in regional energy circles, was the project’s key distinguishing feature from New England renewable energy projects, and continues to reside within the project’s discredited and misleading media campaign: the promise that the project would not require any subsidies.

In the last several months, as CLF predicted, Northeast Utilities, Hydro-Québec, and their allies have launched a major initiative to secure out-of-market subsidies of one form or the other for Canadian hydropower.  These efforts are now raging in the legislatures of Connecticut and Rhode Island and are simmering in other New England states. CLF is deeply engaged in protecting our state Renewable Portfolio Standard laws from this incursion and in turning back any long-term deals that will supply Canadian hydropower to these states at above-market prices or in a way that threatens renewable deployment in New England.

To us and to others, the false urgency associated with these proposals seems transparently calculated to advance a “Northern Pass 2.0,” just as Northern Pass 1.0 falls apart.

What would Northern Pass 2.0 look like? On the ground, whatever the “new route” New Hampshire continues to wait for, it will almost certainly look the same as Northern Pass 1.0, suffering from many of the same failings. But there will be some key differences, as the project’s underpinnings shift to accommodate a new economic reality. It will rely on public and/or ratepayer subsidies that will mean that New England will pay an above-market premium for the power or will provide an out-of-market gift of long-term energy price certainty to Hydro-Québec, in part to finance the associated transmission. In addition, many in New Hampshire’s North Country believe that the project will need to be sited on public land that is legally off-limits to circumvent the strong, ongoing efforts of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests to secure blocking conservation easements – in effect, another public subsidy for the project that will face overwhelming pushback in New Hampshire. (Clearly, Northern Pass’s dogged legislative fight to secure an ability to use eminent domain for the project, which it lost in resounding fashion in 2012, was only a preview of coming tactics.)  

As CLF has consistently said, there may be appropriate alternatives to Northern Pass that strengthen New England’s access to Canadian hydropower resources, but only if those alternatives are pursued through well-informed, fair, and transparent public processes, provide meaningful community and ratepayer benefits, displace our dirtiest energy resources, and verifiably result in carbon and other emissions reductions. It does not appear that the emerging Northern Pass 2.0 – buoyed by a set of special deals and no discernible improvements – would do anything to advance these basic common sense principles, which should guide the region’s transition to a resource mix that will power New England’s clean energy future.

With few signs that Northern Pass’s sponsors have learned lessons from their missteps so far, Northern Pass 2.0 looks to have an even tougher path in New Hampshire than the dead end road that Northern Pass 1.0 has traveled. This was a message from the Granite State that the world of energy industry insiders and analysts needed to hear.

Northeast Utilities Still Can’t Reveal “New Route” for Northern Pass

Apr 2, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Northeast Utilities (NU) tells investors and the public that it is will announce a new northernmost route for its Northern Pass transmission project by a certain date. The date arrives. A “project update” appears on the website of NU subsidiary and project developer Northern Pass Transmission LLC, saying that it isn’t ready to announce the new route just yet.

What's behind the curtain, Northern Pass? (photo credit: flickr/Nick Sherman)

What’s behind the curtain, Northern Pass? (photo credit: flickr/Nick Sherman)

Sound familiar? It happened at the end of 2012. As reported in the Caledonian Record, it happened again last week, a mere month after NU said – in writing to investors and the Securities and Exchange Commission – that it would announce a new route by the end of March. This is the fourth self-imposed deadline that Northern Pass’s developer has failed to meet since last summer. You’d be forgiven if you started asking yourself whether Northern Pass’s route is the transmission equivalent of vaporware.

For whatever reason, NU has repeatedly misled the public and its investors about the Northern Pass project, and not just the project’s schedule.

Securities regulators should take note of this pattern of behavior and insist on honesty and transparency from NU, just as Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley did when NU recently balked at revealing its CEO’s 2012 compensation package. As we’ve said before, investors, the public, and our energy future depend on accurate information and forthright disclosures from energy companies. That’s not what we’re getting from NU on Northern Pass.

Clean Energy Being Derailed by Messy Process in Connecticut?

Mar 22, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

On a sloppy March 19, while our changing climate threw a late winter storm of ice, snow, hail, sleet and rain at New England, a legislative hearing room in Hartford Connecticut was the focus of regional energy policy attention. The  Energy and Technology Committee of the Connecticut Legislature was holding a hearing on a bill to revise the Renewable Energy Portfolio standard of Connecticut – the Nutmeg State’s piece of the regional effort that has inspired a rising tide of wind and solar energy development across New England.

The bill before the committee that day, which bears the spine tingling and exciting name of “SB 1138 – An Act Concerning Connecticut’s Clean Energy Goals” was a complex piece of legislation making a whole series of changes to the important law that is Connecticut’s part of a successful regional effort to build new clean energy facilities.

An odd and disturbing subtext was this: at the very same moment that the hearing was going on the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced and released online a study of the very program being revised by the proposed law.  This meant that as DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty was introducing and explaining a law to change a critical energy and environmental program his Department was releasing a draft study, which would go through two months of public process, to decide whether to make the very kind of changes that the bill he was introducing would make. This is very similar to a group of kids playing baseball in front of plate glass window while promising to have a really focused conversation about where (and where not) was a safe place to play ball, vowing to do so right after their game ended.

To be fair, there is a real urgency to one part of the bill: the provision that would enable Connecticut to move quickly, perhaps in cooperation with other states, to enter into long-term contracts with windfarms and take advantage of the limited extension of the federal renewable energy incentives that (unless Congress changes its mind yet again) only apply to projects that are in construction by the end of 2013 – a deadline that seems like a long ways away, unless you are trying to build a large facility like a windfarm, in which case you understand that getting contracts in place as soon as possible is needed to have shovels in the ground and construction underway by the end of the year.

But another topic was the main focus of the hearing: the proposal to allow large Canadian hydroelectricity to participate in the program, a change long sought by Canadian provinces who seek to import money in exchange for power – and a change long opposed by those who wanted to keep the program focused on building new wind and solar resources for New England.

The hearing brought forth a flood of testimony. While there were over 100 pieces of written and in-person testimony presented to the committee it appears that only the state-owned Hydro Quebec utility, who would likely handsomely benefit if the bill became law, and Northeast Utilities, who are trying to build the infamous Northern Pass transmission line to bring that power to market, testified in favor of the very controversial change in eligibility benefiting large Canadian hydropower.

CLF’s testimony on Bill 1138 criticized that change in the law as disrupting a very successful renewable energy program, as did the testimony of business leaders and labor unions and many, many others. Our testimony graphically illustrated the ever-rising progress of wind power in New England as RPS-inspired projects came on line and fed clean power into the regional grid.Rise of wind energy in NE 2009-13

Some members of the committee, including Rep. Brian Becker, actively raised the question of whether the urgent portion of the bill that would allow Connecticut to move forward with procurement of wind and solar this year, in tandem with other states, could be severed from the other controversial portions of the bill that could be reviewed and discussed separately. No real response was ever given to this very legitimate concern.

In the aftermath of the hearing some of the environmental and business groups who testified delivered a letter to the legislative leadership summarizing the situation and, extraordinarily, officials in Massachusetts state government expressed concern about the bill – telling reporters that:

Massachusetts has taken the lead, working very closely with other New England states, in putting together a regional procurement plan for renewable energy. While we embrace a wide range of clean energy initiatives, we have serious concerns about how Connecticut’s proposed changes to its renewable portfolio standard will affect the region’s renewable market

Undeterred by this criticism and controversy and ignoring the clear issues of good government and process, as well as the need to foster business development through clear and consistent rules adopted after careful process, the Committee met and considered a very slightly revised version of the bill on March 20 in a meeting recorded in an online video.  Eight members of the Committee expressed real concern about the deep and systematic changes being made to a critical clean energy program. They, once again, aired the idea of severing the one small provision that needed to be moved rapidly, considering the rest of the bill after the study, already underway, was completed. Again, they did not get a public response.  The final vote of 16-8 shows who on the Committee stood where.  It is indeed striking not one of the 16 who voted “yea” was willing to defend their vote.

All signs point to the bill continuing to move ahead at a very rapid clip – in fact it may come to the floor of the legislature for a vote as soon as March 27 – when new gun laws being considered in the wake of the Newtown tragedy will be absorbing public interest.

If you live in Connecticut, or know someone who does, please use our action alert to urge the legislative leadership to stop the rush towards changing this important energy and environmental program.  Instead, very specific and timely action to join with other states to enter into long term contracts with new windfarms is needed and the rest of the changes to the renewable energy program should be carefully studied and considered.

Why Should New England Subsidize Large-scale Canadian Hydropower?

Feb 26, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

(photo credit: Jack Zalium/flickr)

Get ready: long-simmering chatter among lobbyists and officials in state houses and administrative agencies is about to become a loud, insistent chorus proclaiming that New England needs to give Canadian hydropower financial incentives so that our region can meet renewable energy and climate goals. This policy change would be a wrong turn for a region that is trying to build a truly clean energy future.

As we’ve been discussing for several years now, Québec and other eastern Canadian provinces are eager to increase power exports to New England, including through proposed transmission projects like Northern Pass. Our neighbors to the north have developed and are building more power than they need, and, until New England power prices began their historic decline, the economic motivation for increasing exports was clear: Canadian utilities like Hydro-Québec could sell power to customers in New England and the northeastern U.S. at much higher prices than their own domestic customers are paying. Profits from existing exports to the United States were and remain a major contributor to those utilities’ bottom lines, and they saw and planned to take advantage of a major opportunity to increase profits with new transmission capacity and newly developed hydropower facilities.

The economics behind this long-term Canadian strategy are increasingly in question. Following on the heels of recent technical analysis questioning the strategy’s underpinnings, the most recent projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that total U.S. imports of all energy and electricity in particular are slated to decline over the next fifteen years, with electricity imports never again to achieve the peak level of imports seen in 2012. Given the availability of U.S.-based energy supplies at lower long-term prices, especially natural gas but also wind and other renewable sources, there will be less market demand in the U.S. for Canadian power. These projections reflect a very different reality from the prevailing expectations in 2008, when Hydro-Québec’s strategic plan and the Northern Pass proposal were taking shape. In a research note published last week, Stéphane Marione of Canada’s National Bank Financial warned that “none of the Canadian energy-producing provinces can ignore the profound changes that are taking place in the U.S.”

Montréal, we have a problem. In this new world, the potential market profits from Hydro-Québec’s export strategy are far less compelling. Hydro-Québec may not be able to sell power in New England at the prices it needs to recover the costs of building new transmission like the Northern Pass project and new hydropower projects like the Romaine complex and also return substantial export-driven dividends to the provincial budget.

One possible way that Hydro-Quebec could restore some of these profits is by convincing New England states to increase the price New England customers will pay for Canadian hydropower above the market price. While this may directly contradict the widely held assumption (and marketing claim) that Canadian hydropower is a low-cost power source that is economic without any special incentives, the cognitive dissonance has not prevented Hydro-Québec and Northern Pass developer Northeast Utilities from lobbying New England states to achieve just this goal, an effort CLF has opposed around the region, including in New Hampshire. (Hydro-Québec succeeded several years ago in convincing Vermont to allow its power to count towards a portion of the state’s renewable targets.)

Although the utilities’ lobbying is mostly outside the public view, it is increasingly occurring out in the open, with a direct and urgent new tone. Case in point: Hydro-Québec and Northeast Utilities recently filed comments on Connecticut’s draft energy strategy, which contained some language favoring expansion of Connecticut’s renewable portfolio standard program to include Canadian hydropower, the very policy change that the utilities are seeking. (Incidentally, the final strategy, released last week, made a few changes to the language, and Connecticut is now considering whether and how it might incentivize new imports in a separate study, which is due out soon.) So what did they say?

Hydro-Québec, through its U.S. trading subsidiary HQUS, commented that hydropower should be counted towards meeting Connecticut’s renewable objectives and that its hydropower is less costly than other renewables, but not all power in the marketplace:

HQUS urges Connecticut to recognize Hydro-Québec hydropower as a renewable resource and consider how it might contribute to achieving renewable objectives, as well as other important energy and economic goals. HQUS recognizes that Connecticut has multiple objectives for its renewable programs including to support the development of in-state and in-region resources and emerging technologies. However, if Connecticut’s priority is to maintain its commitment to renewable supply in a cost-effective matter, consideration should be given to the participation of Canadian hydropower. Allowing these resources to contribute to renewable objectives offers a pragmatic way for the state to lower program costs in the near term and, if desired, to extend and increase renewable goals into the future. An approach that values the multiple benefits of Canadian hydropower could also create a market signal necessary in today’s market to promote the infrastructure needed for incremental deliveries into the region for the benefit of all consumers….

Some stakeholders suggest that Hydro-Québec hydropower facilities are “cheap” or low cost to construct. This is incorrect. In fact the cost of building hydropower facilities is significant and generally also requires the construction of new transmission facilities to deliver generator output to load centers, which is also very costly. (Hydro-Québec has also proven successful in the development and construction of transmission facilities to deliver large quantities of electricity over long distances.) However, even with the added cost of transmission to deliver hydropower from Quebec into New England, HQUS estimates its costs to be significantly less than the cost of the delivering equivalent quantities of renewable power from other potential renewable resources in and near New England.

Northeast Utilities, through its Connecticut subsidiary Connecticut Light & Power, commented that hydropower delivered through new transmission projects should get incentives, which would count against the state’s current renewable requirements:

Connecticut has an opportunity to tap into Canadian hydroelectric facilities that are available now or under development, through the development of new transmission infrastructure. A Connecticut RPS market design, which acknowledges that RPS can not only enable new generation, but also support new, clean energy transmission infrastructure could, in this instance, provide for significant Connecticut customer savings….

CL&P believes Connecticut could create a new class of RECs for incremental hydro-electric supply that is delivered over a new transmission interconnection that has been built as an economic project (as opposed to a reliability-based one) which would supplant the need for meeting some portion of Class I RPS requirements….

CL&P believes that embracing large scale hydro power delivered on new transmission as a qualified renewable would meet all three of the State’s energy goals:

  • It would be cheaper than other clean energy resources,
  • It is clean with very low lifecycle CO2 emissions, established by independent scientific reviews, and
  • It is reliable, and would lessen the region’s dependence on natural gas for power generation needs.

It’s clear from these comments – and the utilities’ growing campaign to secure changes to New England’s renewable energy policies – that they are looking for subsidies from electric ratepayers to support new hydropower imports into the region. In fact, the Northeast Utilities comments constitute a direct effort to secure ratepayer subsidies for Canadian hydropower transmitted over Northern Pass, something Northeast Utilities repeatedly claimed it would not seek and does not need (e.g., herehere,  and here).* (For the record, they are mischaracterizing the emissions benefits to support their argument for subsidies. But that’s another story, well chronicled in prior posts.) Certainly, Hydro-Québec’s own comments reveal that its power can no longer beat the market on its own.

It’s also clear that, depending on how it is pursued, this kind of policy change threatens to put New England’s renewable energy industry at a deep and unfair disadvantage and to undermine its growth. Even Northeast Utilities, in the comments linked above, acknowledges this risk.

CLF has been clear that more Canadian hydropower could be a good thing for the region under the right conditions. But why should New England customers be forced to pay an above-market price? State renewable portfolio laws are intended to get new renewable projects built here, not to force ratepayers to pay extra to improve the economics of Québec’s new hydropower facilities and specific transmission development plans. That’s why CLF strongly objected to the draft Connecticut strategy’s mention of potential inclusion of Canadian hydropower in Connecticut’s renewable portfolio standard law. You can read our full comments, which address other major Connecticut energy issues as well, here.

It’s not too late for the New England states to get smart about new imports and make sure that new imports only happen, if at all, in cost-effective ways that allow alternative power sources and companies to compete on a level playing field, respect local communities, and provide meaningful economic and environmental benefits, accounted for in fair and open processes. Committing New England residents and businesses to pay above-market prices for Canadian hydropower isn’t one of them.

* from Northern Pass’s website, accessed today:

Providing economic clean energy—without a government subsidy

This will be one of the few—if not the only—renewable energy projects in the region that does not need a government subsidy to move forward. Hydro-Québec can generate and sell the power to us at prices that will compete with the average market prices that are being set today by fossil fuel power plants.

Another Blown Deadline: For Now, No “New Route” for Northern Pass

Jan 3, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

New Year's Eve in Times Square (photo credit: flickr/Mondayne)

The ball and other ceremonial objects have dropped, and 2013 has arrived. Although we mark the turn of the year with champagne, Auld Lang Syne, and a bevy of news stories and year-end blog posts, there’s not much genuinely “new” about the New Year. We hang a new calendar and start writing 2013 on legal briefs and checks (as the case may be), and life goes on.

Here in New Hampshire, the developer of the Northern Pass transmission project celebrated New Year’s Eve without any year-end changes. As revelers made their way to New Year’s Eve parties, in a classic “news dump” to minimize attention, Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) posted a cryptic “project update” to its website. The update stated:

[W]e have identified a new route in the North Country that we will submit to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Commission [sic] in the future for consideration and review.  We are in the process of finalizing this new proposal and will soon be prepared to announce its specific details….

We also recognize that while we are communicating with local citizens, stakeholders and public officials across New Hampshire, there is still much that can be done.  We believe this communication and dialogue is critical to the ultimate success of the new route and the project overall and felt it was necessary to take some additional time to continue these efforts before we publicly announce the new routing proposal.

In other words, NPT and its parent company Northeast Utilities (NU) had nothing new to announce, and the public will continue to wait for actual details and updated regulatory filings. And it’s not the first time Northern Pass’s developer has failed to deliver on its promise of a new route.

In May, NU set an August deadline for a route announcement; in July, NU set a September deadline; and throughout the fall, NU promised to finalize a route and file an updated Presidential Permit application with the U.S. Department of Energy by the end of the 2012, even going so far as to say that it had already obtained 99% of the land it needs. In this context, the Concord Monitor aptly reported on the New Year’s Eve “update”: Northern Pass misses deadline to unveil new route.

While NPT’s non-announcement wasn’t a surprise to CLF or others following the project closely, it was an important moment. It was, most of all, an embarrassing setback – the latest blown deadline after a series of blown deadlines stretching back to April 2011, when NPT decided to seek out a “new route” for the northernmost portion of the project.

NPT has been banking on its capacity to pay above-market land prices for a transmission corridor in the North Country. So far, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, its supporters from more than two hundred New Hampshire towns and cities and also from around the region and country, and a number of courageous landowners unwilling to sell at any price have achieved remarkable success in blocking NPT’s efforts on the ground, property-by-property. It would appear NPT’s confidence was misplaced.

For NU executives and investors, Hydro-Québec, and Northern Pass enthusiasts in southern New England, the project’s latest blown deadline should be a wake-up call.

It’s not working.

Not NPT’s back-room strategy to assemble a serpentine series of parcels for a new transmission corridor in the North Country, without any meaningful changes to the project’s design or the southern 80% of its proposed route.

Not NPT’s attempts to game the federal permitting process in its favor.

Not NPT’s bogus claims of environmental and economic benefits for New Hampshire and of wide support for the project.

Not NPT’s campaign to discredit affected citizens in the nearly three dozen communities that have declared opposition to the project and the entire New Hampshire conservation community as “not in my backyard” types and “special interests.”

In the New Year, Northern Pass’s developers should recognize that half of the “dialogue” they are promising is listening. The latest blown deadline should signal, loud and clear, that the current Northern Pass proposal won’t be successful, new route in Coös County or not.

The Latest on Northern Pass: A Year-End Roundup

Dec 28, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As CLF begins a third year of advocacy on the Northern Pass project, some updates are in order:

The “New Route” Drama

With 2013 only days away, it is looking more and more likely that Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) will not have secured 100% of a “new route” for the project’s northernmost portion by year end, as its public statements have been promising for months. As chronicled in a Boston Globe front-page story published earlier this week (the national daily’s first major story on Northern Pass), landowners are rejecting repeated offers from NPT, and our friends at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests have secured agreements to conserve key parcels along what appears to NPT’s preferred new path. (According to report in yesterday’s Union Leader, NPT officials are readying some kind of “update” on the project’s progress, which may raise more questions than it answers.)

If NPT fails to make good on its promised “new route,” it will be a singular embarrassment and signal more wasted months of self-inflicted delay. It also will continue NPT’s troubling pattern of misleading investors and peddling falsehoods about the project.

Whatever the success of NPT’s attempt to buy a transmission corridor through New Hampshire’s North Country, Northern Pass overall will remain the same flawed proposal that affected communities and stakeholders have overwhelmingly rejected over the last two years. Susan Arnold of the Appalachian Mountain Club and I penned an op-ed with this message, and it was widely published in New Hampshire newspapers this month. Please take a moment to read the op-ed here.

NU’s False Statements Get Noticed

Over the last month, the Boston Globe, the Concord Monitor, Connecticut newspapers, and NHPR (complete with audio) published stories on Northeast Utilities CEO Tom May’s blatantly false statements about support for Northern Pass. Instead of correcting the comments, NU’s spokesperson compounded Mr. May’s misstatements by insisting, contrary to any possible interpretation of the comments, that Mr. May was speaking about support for the Cape Wind project – a renewable energy proposal backed by a strong public campaign that is co-sponsored by many of the region’s environmental groups. The contrast with Northern Pass couldn’t be starker.

A Broken Permitting Process

The Department of Energy’s permitting process for the Northern Pass project remains tainted by its abdication of responsibility to select an independent and impartial contractor to prepare the crucial environmental impact statement for the project. In a recent letter to Senator Shaheen, DOE repeated its prior position that it sees nothing wrong with the way the current contractor team was selected because NPT’s extraordinary role in the selection process was not unusual. As I explained in October, a precedent of repeating a mistake is no justification. In November, CLF filed a new Freedom of Information Act request to understand the activities of the contractor team, DOE, and NPT during the last year and the extent of NPT’s influence over the direction of the permitting process.

An Underground Alternative Emerges

Meanwhile, we are learning more about a realistic alternative to NPT’s current proposal that could address some community concerns and provide new public revenues. In November, a state legislative commission released an important report highlighting the feasibility of siting underground high-voltage transmission lines in state-owned transportation corridors. The report can be found here (PDF) and followed a lengthy process of collecting testimony and input from dozens of stakeholders, including CLF and a number of other conservation organizations. The report found that underground transmission technologies and corridors are “being used extensively throughout the U.S. and internationally,” “may increase the reliability and security of the electric transmission system,” and “may be technically and financially competitive with other transmission designs and locations.” The commission pointed to other pending transmission projects that incorporate underground technologies sited in state-owned transportation corridors as an indication that this approach “can be technically and financially viable.” (Earlier this week, New York officials recommended approval of one of these projects – the Champlain Hudson Power Express between Québec and New York City, which now includes more than 120 miles of underground high-voltage transmission in active railroad corridors and highways.)

While the state agency officials participating in the commission were reluctant to endorse specific policy proposals in the report (which they saw as outside the commission’s charge), many commission members emphasized the need for a proactive, comprehensive energy plan and a regulatory framework that would help New Hampshire assure that new transmission projects provide meaningful public benefits.

A majority of the commission’s legislator members recommended changes to the state siting process for energy projects, including a requirement that a transmission developer bring forward an underground alternative to any overhead project. It is expected that these recommendations will be among the many legislative proposals to amend the state siting law during the 2013 session of the New Hampshire legislature.

*             *             *

What will 2013 bring for the Northern Pass project and New Hampshire’s energy future? Stay updated by signing up for our newsletter Northern Pass Wire, and be sure to check in with CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass) and all of our latest Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop. You can also follow me on Twitter, where I often point to recent news articles on Northern Pass.

Getting Desperate: Northeast Utilities CEO Falsely Claims Wide Support for Northern Pass

Nov 15, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This week, the developer of the Northern Pass transmission project, Northeast Utilities (NU), sunk to a new low. In a presentation at a utility industry conference, NU CEO Tom May stated that:

  • “[T]his project has the support of every environmental group in New England basically.”

This is unequivocally untrue. In fact, CLF is not aware of a single New England environmental group that supports the Northern Pass project as proposed. You don’t have to take our word for it: literally dozens of New England’s environmental organizations – regional, state, and local – have registered significant concerns with, or outright opposition to, the proposed project in public comments to the U.S. Department of Energy. May’s statement is all the more puzzling given the energy that NU has devoted to attacking the efforts of groups like CLF (e.g., here and here), the Appalachian Mountain Club (e.g., here), and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (e.g., here).

  • The regional electric grid operator, ISO-NE, has been a “big proponent of this project.

This is also inaccurate. Northern Pass is an “elective” transmission project that is not intended to address any electric grid needs identified by ISO-NE. As a result, ISO-NE is obligated to consider the project objectively alongside competing elective projects (of which there are several), and Northern Pass is not specifically endorsed in any of ISO-NE’s planning documents, such as ISO-NE’s recently released 10-year Regional System Plan for the New England electric grid. Because it is an elective project that ISO-NE didn’t ask for and doesn’t plan to rely on, ISO-NE’s primary role in reviewing Northern Pass will be to assure that it won’t have an adverse impact on the reliability of the grid, not to advocate for the project.

  • New Hampshire’s new governor-elect, Maggie Hassan, is “supportive of the project.”

Governor-elect Hassan’s website contains this statement to the contrary:

Maggie opposes the first Northern Pass proposal.  As a state senator, Maggie worked to pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit the use of eminent domain for private gain, and she opposes the use of eminent domain for this project.

Maggie believes that we must protect the scenic views of the North Country, which are vital to our tourism industry.  As Governor, she will ensure that, in accordance with the law, New Hampshire undertakes a rigorous review process of any proposal and provide significant opportunities for public voices to be heard.

Maggie hopes that the next proposal will address the concerns of the communities involved.  She believes that burying the lines would be a more appropriate approach, and also supports looking into home-grown energy sources, such as the new biomass plant under construction in Berlin.

Governor-elect Hassan has also expressed her support for Governor Lynch’s approach to the project: namely, that the directly affected communities must support the project before it moves forward. With almost all the communities on the record opposing the project (and no willingness on the part of Northern Pass’s developer to consider burial as an alternative to overhead lines), it’s impossible to characterize Governor-elect Hassan’s position as support for the project.

(May’s remarks on Northern Pass are at 21:00 – 25:30 in the webcast linked here.)

Since the Northern Pass project was announced more than two years ago, CLF has identified significant problems with the proposal, including the developer’s egregiously misleading marketing of the project’s environmental attributes and other supposed benefits. CLF has repeatedly emphasized, in the words of our President John Kassel, that “long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power – that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England’s own renewable energy resources, replace coal and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and accurately account for their impacts – are what New England needs.” Thus far, the Northern Pass project, as proposed, meets none of these criteria, and therefore is not a project CLF can support.

Beyond our specific concerns, we’ve been fighting for some basic principles that should not be controversial, such as transparency, fairness, and especially honesty. Again and again, NU has unfortunately refused to abide by these principles, repeating discredited claims about the project’s emissions reductions and outdated accounts of other benefits, marginalizing the many stakeholders raising legitimate questions about the project, and employing bullying tactics against project opponents (for the most recent example, see here).

As we explained more than two months ago, Northern Pass still has no clear path forward. In concocting a story of broad-based political and stakeholder support, NU is – deliberately or recklessly – misleading its investors with plainly false information: an unacceptable breach of NU’s legal obligations as a public company and of investors’ trust. It is incumbent upon NU to correct the record immediately and to jettison its aggressively deceptive approach to securing approval of the Northern Pass project. The public deserves far, far better.

Page 1 of 512345