New England Closes the Door on Northern Pass

Massachusetts Officially Moves On from Northern Pass and New Hampshire Formalizes its Permit Denial

New England is moving on from the proposed Northern Pass transmission line. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Northern Pass received two major blows in March, knocking it fully out of contention as the energy winner in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth, which initially selected the proposed transmission line for a lucrative clean energy contract in January, severed ties and announced on March 28 that it is moving on to a different project. Just two days later, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee – which orally voted to reject the project’s request for permits in February – issued a unanimous written order rejecting Northern Pass’s request to build in New Hampshire.

While Northern Pass vows to continue the fight, and to appeal the Site Evaluation Committee’s denial, it’s difficult to imagine the project ever becoming a reality.

Massachusetts Has Left Northern Pass Behind

Northern Pass is now shut out in the Commonwealth. Last summer, 46 projects bid to win an energy contract with Massachusetts, which at first chose the Northern Pass transmission line and hydroelectric energy project. This project would have sliced through the middle of New Hampshire, starting from the Canadian border in the north, through rural north country communities and the White Mountains, and then across southern towns including the capital, before finally connecting to the New England electric grid.

One reason Massachusetts chose Northern Pass was that the project appeared to be farther along in its permitting processes than other bidders. But when Northern Pass was unanimously rejected by New Hampshire’s siting board, everything ground to a halt.

But Northern Pass’s rejection was no shock to New Hampshire residents. The project has been roundly opposed by towns and businesses across the state, as well as by environmental groups like CLF, for the past decade. Eversource, the project’s developer, has consistently declined to work with communities to reduce the impacts of the transmission line. Their only concession came in 2015, when they finally agreed to bury the portion of the line that was slated to run overhead through the treasured White Mountain National Forest. After years of denying the feasibility of burying the line — even through the majestic White Mountains — this seemed little more than a cold calculation by Eversource, which likely concluded that Northern Pass would not receive a critical federal permit from the U.S. Forest Service otherwise.

Eversource relied on its powerful status in New England to advance the Northern Pass project in the Massachusetts bidding process. In fact, Eversource was on the committee in Massachusetts that initially selected the Northern Pass bid. But when Northern Pass failed to receive its permits to build in New Hampshire, Massachusetts decided to walk away.

New Hampshire Continues to Say No to Northern Pass

The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee’s March 30 written decision formalizes its February oral vote, and memorializes the project’s unanimous rejection. The written decision articulates in detail the failings of Northern Pass, including its failure to present honest and forthright information about impacts on the state.

Instead of admitting that there would be significant impacts in New Hampshire and working to alleviate them, Eversource claimed that there would be no effects on tourism, recreation, land use, and the economy. The energy giant went so far as to suggest that overhead industrial transmission towers might even attract tourists. The Committee’s written order details these claims and concludes that each of them is poorly founded in facts and analysis and lacks credibility.

In short, Eversource’s arrogance led the company to put forward a self-serving case that denied any impacts in New Hampshire, and that case failed a basic sniff test. It wasn’t believable, and it wasn’t true.

The Future of Northern Pass

Eversource insists that Northern Pass is not down for the count. Now that there is a written decision from the New Hampshire agency, Eversource will likely appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Any appeal will take approximately a year, though. And in the unlikely event that an appeal ultimately yielded a reversal, the Site Evaluation Committee’s findings to date suggest that, in the end, they will reach the same result, denying approval for this ill-conceived project.

We’ve opposed Northern Pass for many years and will continue to do so. We will oppose Northern Pass until Eversource withdraws the project for good, including through state and federal appeals if necessary.

But last week’s major developments in Massachusetts and New Hampshire put us closer to the end of Northern Pass.

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.