An Insulting “New Route” for Northern Pass

Christophe Courchesne

Northern Pass New Route

Northern Pass’s “new route”

Today, we learned from PSNH President Gary Long about the Northern Pass transmission project’s long-awaited “new route.” As predicted, the “new route” hardly changes the original proposal and corrects none of its serious flaws. You can read CLF’s official statement on the announcement here.

It’s critical to see Mr. Long’s announcement for what it is: a desperate (one might say “last ditch”) effort to resuscitate his company, PSNH, and its failing business model of operating inefficient and costly power plants on the backs of New Hampshire households and small businesses, leading to the highest energy rates in the region. True to form, PSNH parent company Northeast Utilities and its shareholders would still collect the lucrative fees from Northern Pass partner Hydro-Québec, while PSNH customers, who have to live with the project, would likely see even higher rates if Northern Pass were built and PSNH’s power plants continue to operate (and pollute) as they do today. Nothing about today’s announcement changes that reality.

The “improvements” announced today involve moving a small portion of the project’s path through the northernmost towns in New Hampshire (a forty-mile stretch where an entirely new transmission corridor would be constructed) and include 8 miles of new underground lines, less than 5% of the overall route, to be buried in publicly-owned roads. Designed to make the project marginally less offensive to a few communities, these pathetically modest revisions are all PSNH can show for itself after two years and millions of dollars of closed-door land deals. Notably, Northern Pass does not currently have rights to use state and local roads and will seek them during the permitting process. In other words, Northern Pass could not find enough willing landowners to secure a complete route. Unaffected by the changes announced today, Northern Pass’s overhead lines would still cross the protected White Mountain National Forest, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Pondicherry division of the Conte National Wildlife Refuge, and Bear Brook and Pawtuckaway State Parks, among other state lands and conservation areas.

Filled with gauzy statements about working with stakeholders and using precisely the same song and dance we’ve been hearing since 2010 regarding the project’s supposed benefits (complete with deliberate falsehoods about emissions reductions), Mr. Long’s announcement follows two years of adversarial, scorched earth tactics by PSNH, and PSNH affiliate Northern Pass Transmission LLC, like gaming the federal permitting process, attacking land conservation efforts, and blatantly misrepresenting the project’s support and its illusory economic and environmental benefits.

In this context, it’s not surprising that PSNH can’t keep its story straight. For example, Mr. Long is continuing to insist that Northern Pass needs no subsidies, even as the economic reality has changed and Northeast Utilities lobbyists have spent the last year fighting for subsidies to keep the project on track.

Likewise, the new plan to bury 8 miles of the project is flatly at odds with Northern Pass’s repeated insistence (including in a legal filing with the Department of Energy) that any burial would be too expensive. If burial is beneficial and practical for communities and stakeholders along a portion of the route, much more of the project – if not the whole line – should be sited underground, as Governor Hassan suggests in her first reaction to the route announcement.

Unfortunately, the new route moves the project no closer to a genuine solution that would bring meaningful economic and environmental benefits to New Hampshire and real progress toward a clean energy future for New England. It was just last week that CLF expressed cautious optimism that the region could benefit from imports of large hydropower from Canada, if the deals, policies and projects were done right. What is now clear: the “new and improved” Northern Pass project is nothing new, and isn’t the solution.

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