As an environmental watchdog leading the charge for clean energy investments and jobs throughout New England, CLF often goes toe-to-toe with powerful utilities and energy companies. When they want to build new power plants, transmission lines, or pipelines, we force a close examination of the potential impacts – both positive and negative – of their projects. While this sometimes makes us a target, for decades it has helped the region improve good projects and avoid bad ones.
This week, Eversource Energy, our region’s largest utility, put us squarely in their crosshairs over our longstanding opposition to their controversial Northern Pass project. Rather than address the many issues that have made the project so unpopular with New Hampshire residents, they instead chose to run a smear campaign against us.
If they thought they could silence or discredit us, they were wrong. Now that Northern Pass has been chosen by Massachusetts as the sole winner in a bidding process to provide the state with up to 2,000 megawatts of clean energy, we are emboldened in our opposition. So let’s set the record straight about why we have been fighting Northern Pass for eight long years – and why we’re not giving up now.
A Lucrative Energy Contract and a Tale of Two Transmission Projects
Over the past year, CLF has been carefully tracking Massachusetts’s initiative to contract to buy up to 2,000 megawatts of clean energy. Among the energy bids submitted were competing projects that we have been watching for years: Eversource’s Northern Pass and the New England Clean Power Link.
Both Northern Pass and the New England Clean Power Link, put forward by TDI, were proposed before the Massachusetts clean energy initiative was formalized into law a year ago. But for months now, they have been competing to sell Massachusetts energy as part of it.
The projects both aim to deliver Canadian-derived energy into New England over massive new transmission lines. Despite this shared goal, the projects and their developer’s approaches could not be more different.
Northern Pass has chosen for its power lines to cut through the heart of New Hampshire’s treasured White Mountains and numerous communities on massive above-ground towers. For this and other reasons, public opposition to the project grew swiftly after it was first proposed and has only increased in the years since. Eversource and Northern Pass now find themselves in year eight of its permitting process – still lacking necessary state and federal permissions to build.
On the other hand, TDI elected to site its New England Clean Power Link in Vermont and to bury the entire power line out of sight with minimized environmental harm. This led to scarce public opposition to the project. After vigorous advocacy from CLF and other groups, TDI improved its project by promising to fund renewable energy development and clean-up efforts for iconic Lake Champlain. Within one year of filing for its permits, TDI obtained all federal authorizations and worked out a settlement with the State of Vermont, CLF, utilities, and communities, allowing the approval of its siting.
CLF did not endorse either (or any) project in the Commonwealth’s request for clean energy project proposals. But we did fight to ensure that every project chosen among the many viable bids would help New England advance towards the clean energy future we all deserve.
Granite Staters Strongly Oppose Northern Pass, But Eversource Doesn’t Care
The Northern Pass transmission project, which would slice through 192 miles of New Hampshire’s scenic landscapes and communities, is wildly unpopular in the state. Out of 31 towns that would be affected, 22 have stepped up to oppose it, and more than 95 percent of 4,500 public commenters have stated their strong opposition.
The public isn’t persuaded, for example, by Northern Pass’s claims that the towering lines and swaths of forest clearcuts will not adversely affect tourism or scenic environments. They’re also unconvinced when Northern Pass says the blasting needed to construct the line through the state’s famous granite won’t have any negative impacts (even though Northern Pass admits they haven’t yet figured out exactly where they will need to blast – only that it will be necessary). And commenters don’t believe Northern Pass’s claims that burying the entire line is financially impossible, particularly when they see another project, like TDI’s, that will be 100 percent underground.
CLF has played a role in the state and federal approval processes from the start. We have repeatedly urged Eversource and Northern Pass to change their approach to avoid industrializing the communities and sacred north country woods of New Hampshire. But Northern Pass has been dismissive of communities along the project’s path and has spread misrepresentations to decision makers as well as the public. As a result, CLF has felt compelled to stand up for the New Hampshire families and businesses that would have their towns and scenic landscapes carved up by enormous towers and wires.
Desperate Measures and False Claims
Eversource has now spent eight years with Northern Pass floundering in the permitting process, and the project is far from ready to meet the electricity needs of southern New England. So in their attempts to convince Massachusetts to select their project in the state’s clean energy initiative, they took desperate measures in the hopes of gaining some advantage over their many competitors.
- In their bid, Northern Pass claimed the project would be fully approved by the end of 2017. In truth, they haven’t received permission from the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, and they lack a number of necessary authorizations needed to begin construction.
- They also claim their transmission line will be in service in 2020. In truth, construction will take at least three years once they have all of their permits in order and litigated.
- Northern Pass has repeatedly claimed that the project will reduce electricity costs for businesses and families. But as evidence, they pointed to a proposed contract that was swiftly declared illegal by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission.
- Northern Pass also claims that it’s too expensive to bury meaningful sections of the 192-mile line underground, so it must cut through pristine forests and over scenic hills. However, we know it’s possible to bury lines economically because TDI has promised to do so.
All of this conflicting information – on top of the negative environmental impacts the developers refuse to address meaningfully – has led CLF to speak out against this project. To this end, we submitted two letters to the Massachusetts decision makers identifying the misleading information in the Northern Pass bid and shared our concerns with the press.
Northern Pass’s Smear Campaign
In response, signaling its win-at-any-cost ethos, Eversource has sought to undermine CLF and our effort to protect New Hampshire’s north woods. Instead of meeting us on the mat before regulators and addressing head-on the very real problems with their project, they have instead made up facts, claiming CLF is receiving money from TDI and suggesting that we are biased against Northern Pass. This couldn’t be farther from the truth – in reality, CLF has opposed Northern Pass since 2010, before the TDI project was even proposed.
What is true is that, to date, CLF has found TDI to be more constructive in dealing with communities affected by their line. Before submitting their applications, TDI met with state officials, CLF, and other stakeholders and communities to get their feedback. They shared information about the project, undertook studies to evaluate concerns, and agreed to address potential adverse impacts – including, as already noted above, dedicating much-needed funds for Lake Champlain, under which the transmission line will run. CLF will join other stakeholders and state officials on an Advisory Panel for a portion of the Lake Champlain effort to ensure TDI follows through on its commitments, but we receive no money from TDI as a result of these agreements.
Alongside others who were involved in the siting process, we determined that TDI had worked constructively with local groups to find a constructive path forward. That’s why in 2015, we agreed not to oppose the permits for TDI’s transmission line (which have since been granted).
Northern Pass, on the other hand, appears to seek advantage for itself at any cost, whether to the communities and environment it would affect, or by falsely smearing CLF.
Northern Pass is the Wrong Choice for Massachusetts’s Energy Needs, So We Will Keep Fighting
We’re glad TDI joined stakeholders at the table and agreed to mitigate the impacts of their transmission line. However, that doesn’t mean we endorse the project or the source of the energy that it will transmit. We can and will continue to speak out against any environmentally unfriendly practices or sources of energy. Our goal is to ensure that all energy projects are planned with the environment and New England’s future in mind.
Northern Pass doesn’t fit that bill.
We’re disappointed that the selection committee for the Massachusetts clean energy bid has chosen Eversource and Northern Pass. Frankly, it’s a slap in the face to the dozens of affected communities and thousands of local residents who have been so outspoken in opposing this harmful proposal.
So this is not the end of our fight. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities must approve the committee’s decision, and we will be there every step of the way exposing Eversource’s false claims and disregard for the people and places of New Hampshire. And we are continuing our advocacy in New Hampshire, as the project enters a final phase with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.
We hope that you will join us in this challenge to transform our economy into one built on clean energy that helps, rather than harms, our communities.