A False Choice: Northern Pass Isn’t the Only Option

Christophe Courchesne

As New England considers its energy future, some have heard the sales pitch for the Northern Pass project and have uncritically accepted the hype—lower carbon emissions, reliable power, and energy savings. This week at a series of federal public meetings (continuing tonight in Whitefield and concluding tomorrow night in Colebrook), many Granite Staters are telling the federal government that they aren’t convinced and that authorities need to investigate all reasonable alternatives to the project, including underground lines. That’s been the theme of CLF’s advocacy all along, and it’s catching on.

Earlier this month, the Boston Globe regrettably took a different line, taking the Northern Pass bait and dubbing the project “one of the best available options.” The Globe conceded that Northeast Utilities made “heavy-handed” efforts to introduce the project, was “disingenuous” about the power source in response to CLF’s concerns about its environmental impacts, and was pressuring the New England states to make the mistake of qualifying large-scale hydropower for state renewable incentives. Still, the Globe asserted that the regional environmental and energy benefits of “relatively green, relatively cheap” power from Canada would be so great that “it would be a mistake not to pursue Northern Pass.”  (In an unusual instance of opinion page comity, the Manchester Union Leader and Concord Monitor republished the editorial with the Globe’s permission.)

This past Sunday, the Globe published three responses. The first: a thorough and direct rebuke from none other than NH Governor Maggie Hassan (longer versions of which appeared on the Globe’s website* and in the Union Leader yesterday). A few key passages:

The Boston Globe’s recent editorial concerning the Northern Pass project compels me to respond on behalf of the people of New Hampshire. It is disappointing that the Globe perpetuated the myth that large-scale hydroelectric power and Northern Pass are one and the same. Rather, Northern Pass is one proposed project that would import large-scale hydro to southern New England—and as the Globe points out, the project has made every possible misstep thus far….

Since entering office, I have focused on working with the people and businesses of New Hampshire to build a stronger economic future through innovation, and in no sector is innovation needed more than our energy industry. And yet, the Northern Pass project discounts innovative technologies and new approaches in favor of old transmission methods that could harm our state….

Expanding traditional energy sources like large-scale hydropower does not mean just accepting what Northern Pass has put on the table…. New England is demanding newer, cleaner and more innovative energy sources—energy sources that create jobs here in New England. We should also demand newer, cleaner and more innovative transmission methods.

Exploring new energy sources like large-scale hydro power does not mean just accepting what Northern Pass has offered. As it stands, for the people of New Hampshire, the project is all costs and few, if any, savings. All people in New England deserve better, and the people of New Hampshire will continue to demand better.

A side note: Governor Hassan’s strong leadership on this issue also was reflected earlier this month in the energy resolution by the conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, which wisely emphasizes (in the carefully worded language of such pronouncements) energy efficiency—a resource that helps reduce the need to build new transmission and generation—and also shows shared support for increasing clean energy trade consistent with competitive principles and long-term societal and environmental objectives, subject to mechanisms to verify clean energy benefits. Such a thoughtful and careful approach is much closer to getting it right than Northern Pass ever has been.

Alongside the Governor’s letter, a letter that I authored appeared, and please read the whole thing here.* I point out that there are several robust transmission proposals on the table with Northern Pass, all of which rely on meaningful deployment of underground or underwater transmission and at least two of which directly blend imports of hydropower with new renewable resources developed in New England—an outcome the Globe seems to favor but Northern Pass won’t promote. This ISO-NE map illustrates what I mean—and it leaves out the significant Champlain Hudson project in eastern New York:

Elective transmission projects (source: ISO-NE)

Elective transmission projects (source: ISO-NE)

I also pointed out that there are options in Vermont to increase imports without building new transmission. My conclusion: “[I]t’s essential that proposed power line projects compete on verifiable social, economic, and environmental attributes to ensure that the benefits are ultimately real and clearly outweigh the burdens. Right now, Northern Pass does not fit that bill.”

The third letter was a response from Margo Connors,* a town official in Sugar Hill, who explained the significant impacts of the project in her community and highlighted the underlying profit-seeking—as opposed to reliability or environmental—motivation for the current proposal.

Together, these messages show that the choice posited by the Globe—no new imports or Northern Pass—is a false one. It is long past time for the region to get past the phony promises of New Hampshire’s worst polluter, which continues to fleece New Hampshire households to support its failing dirty energy business. There are transmission and other alternatives—from the Hudson River Valley to the Gulf of Maine and everywhere in between—for us to arrive at solutions that make economic sense, respect host communities, protect our treasured natural resources, reduce emissions, and nurture an innovative clean energy sector across state and national borders.

* Boston Globe subscription may be required.

Learn more about Northern Pass here or by signing up for CLF’s email newsletter, Northern Pass Wire. For the latest Northern Pass updates,  follow me on Twitter.

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