Finally: A Win for Transparency in the Federal Review of Alternatives to Northern Pass

Christophe Courchesne

CLF is celebrating a recent decision that will shine some sunlight into the permitting process for the Northern Pass project. Last week, the New Hampshire Congressional delegation announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will in the near future publish a preliminary report on which alternatives to the Northern Pass project will be studied in DOE’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The draft EIS is not expected until late 2014 at the earliest. The delegation had come together, first in August of last year and again in January, to request this report.


A forthcoming report from the Department of Energy will reveal which alternatives to Northern Pass will be studied during its environmental review. (photo credit: flickr/ecstaticist)

This news marks the successful conclusion of a three-year effort initiated by CLF and several partnering organizations. The rationale for the report is simple. As we said in our original March 31, 2011 letter that first requested the report, the preparation of the EIS is a massive and complex undertaking; at its core, the EIS must include a comprehensive analysis of reasonable alternatives to the applicant’s proposal. It is essential to the overall permitting process that DOE make well-informed and appropriate decisions regarding which alternatives are reasonable and will be studied in detail in the EIS. If DOE is missing key alternatives, the report will allow the public to have an opportunity to make the case that more alternatives should be studied, in time for DOE to change course and study those alternatives in the draft EIS. The public and New Hampshire policymakers have a clear and growing interest in alternatives to the current proposal: witness the New Hampshire House’s recent passage of a bill that would require careful analysis of underground alternatives to overhead, elective transmission projects like Northern Pass within the state siting process. CLF has been fighting for this report for three years and repeatedly renewed our 2011 request, including at last September’s scoping meetings.

This win for transparency is the second time that New Hampshire’s U.S. Senators have succeeded in a joint effort to ensure a fair permitting process: three years ago, they raised concerns, first identified by CLF and several other organizations, that the initial contractor for the EIS had a significant conflict of interest because it was simultaneously working for DOE and for project developer Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) as its consultant in the New Hampshire state permitting process. Under pressure, NPT withdrew the contractor from its role with DOE, and DOE replaced the contractor with a new EIS contractor team. While CLF and many others remain concerned with the flawed process DOE used to select the new team, the EIS is at least no longer in the hands of a contractor that also is being paid to advocate for NPT. The delegation’s latest effort is another sign that there is strong and persistent bipartisan commitment among New Hampshire leaders to ensuring that DOE’s review of Northern Pass is objective, comprehensive, and well-informed.

A final observation on this alternatives report: both DOE (p. 7 of this pdf) and NPT (p. 12 of this pdf) originally opposed issuing it. NPT abruptly changed its position shortly after the delegation’s second letter in January, and DOE followed suit. CLF is grateful that the delegation stood together once again to push DOE toward common-sense steps that will help ensure a better permitting process for Northern Pass.

Read more about alternatives to Northern Pass in our ongoing series hereLearn 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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