Northern Pass Developers Refuse to Face Facts about Hydropower Emissions

Christophe Courchesne

The American developers of the Northern Pass project are misleading the public about the project’s most touted environmental benefit (without which they “wouldn’t be doing this”): reducing New England’s greenhouse gas emissions. Presented with clear, unambiguous evidence that the current proposal would not meaningfully reduce emissions and that their public relations campaign is trading in falsehoods, the developers have done nothing to correct the record or provided any substantive response to the evidence.

In mid-February, CLF released a report on the science regarding large-scale hydropower’s emissions of greenhouse gases, the pollutants that are driving climate change. The conclusion: large-scale hydropower projects, especially new facilities, have substantial greenhouse gas emissions that, in their first years of operation, are equivalent to emissions from modern natural gas power plants.

This conclusion means that the proposed Northern Pass project, which would import up to 1,200 megawatts of new Canadian hydropower into New England and displace power from domestic natural gas plants, would not meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as the developers are claiming.  CLF’s report also demonstrated that the assumption at the heart of the developers’ claim that the Northern Pass project would reduce emissions by 5 million tons per year – that Canadian hydropower has no greenhouse gas emissions – is unequivocally false.

CLF sent a copy of the hydropower emissions report to Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT). In our transmittal letter, we made clear that the science summarized in the report (some of which was included in NPT’s own regulatory filings) clearly contradicted NPT’s marketing claims and urged NPT to:

  • correct the regulatory and public record by retracting and withdrawing all NPT prior statements that hydropower results in no emissions of greenhouse gases and that the Project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by any specific amount, and
  • refrain from making any claims regarding carbon dioxide emissions reductions associated with the Project unless and until those reductions are substantiated in a new technical analysis subject to public and permitting agency review.

To date, NPT has taken neither step. The false “no emissions” canard and the unsupported claim of 5 million tons of annual emissions reductions from the project are still prominent fixtures at NPT’s MyNewHampshire.com:

"No greenhouse gases" (source: http://www.northernpass.us/pdf/ads/Jack.pdf)

NPT spokesman Martin Murray did post a non-responsive comment on CLF’s website, to which I responded in detail here. On its own website, NPT then heralded a Hydro-Québec press release responding to the report, and I explained here why the press release neither reflected a close reading of the report nor challenged the report’s fundamental conclusions but, instead, underscored Hydro-Québec’s position that the major promise of new hydropower imports was as a long-term replacement for dirty, costly coal power plants like New Hampshire’s own Merrimack and Schiller Stations – not natural gas.

Where do NPT’s non-responses leave us? Unfortunately, NPT seems poised to continue on with its false and misleading public relations campaign and has shown no interest in an open, honest debate. CLF will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that the public and decision-makers are fully aware of all the issues associated with the Northern Pass proposal. 

You can support our work by becoming a CLF member and also by telling the permitting agency now reviewing the Northern Pass proposal to consider hydropower’s greenhouse gas emissions – and all the other impacts of Northern Pass power in Canada – as part of the agency’s environmental review – click here to take action.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (https://www.clf.org/northernpass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

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