In 2011, a series of well-attended public “scoping” meetings sent a clear message to the developer of the Northern Pass project: go back to the drawing board. Not long after, Northern Pass announced that it would embark on an effort to make project changes that would address the public’s input, make the project “more acceptable to residents and communities,” and would “earn the favor of the people of New Hampshire.”
Fast forward to today: New Hampshire has lived through the summer rollout of Northern Pass’s “new route”—a slick, million-dollar marketing effort with statewide direct mail, print, radio, television, and Internet advertising, coordinated op-ed and letter-writing campaigns by project-affiliated supporters, a series of trade-show-like “open houses” with dozens of project officials in attendance at each, and lots of corporate blue T-shirts, all repeating the developer’s phony talking points about the project’s supposed energy and environmental benefits and sounding the refrain of “We’ve Listened.”
This week, the public had a chance to respond to the revised proposal at a new round of public “scoping” meetings, which are part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s environmental review of the project’s application for a Presidential Permit to cross the U.S.-Canada border. It turns out that Northern Pass should have listened harder. The week’s takeaway:
At the four meetings—in Concord, Plymouth, Whitefield, and Colebrook—the message was unmistakable: the host communities and New Hampshire as a whole do not want this project.
An overwhelming majority of the nearly 2,000 attendees (an astounding turnout for evening events on two weeks notice) wore hunter orange—the color adopted by the opposition to the project. The audio record (helpfully compiled and edited by radio host Brian Tilton) shows that close to 200 speakers—current and former elected officials, local residents, small business men and women, conservation advocates, youth, and other people from all walks of life—spoke against the project. The public’s reaction followed Governor’s Hassan’s strong comments in Sunday’s Boston Globe taking a clear stand against the current proposal and in favor of pursuing other more innovative energy alternatives.
(There were some 35 supporters of the project who spoke—many of them members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which had a sizable presence only at the first meeting in Concord, is unsurprisingly interested in the several hundred jobs that the project could create, and has frequently rallied to PSNH’s side to sustain the utility’s coal plants. Despite supposedly backing “clean energy jobs,” some Northern Pass supporters took time to denigrate wind and solar projects based in New England.)
In my comments at the first meeting in Concord, I focused on the urgent need for the Department of Energy to lead a truly comprehensive, objective, and transparent permitting process, something CLF requested at the first round of scoping meetings and the agency has utterly failed to provide so far:
You can download a copy of my remarks. As CLF did in a filing last week, several speakers called on the Department of Energy to follow its regulations and reject Northern Pass’s Presidential Permit application because it lacks any real alternatives and fails to include important information about the project’s impacts.
Among the many other themes of public comments at this week’s meetings, a few stood out:
- Support for a full analysis of the promising alternative of underground transmission lines in transportation corridors.
- The importance of protecting the White Mountain National Forest.
- The lack of any regional plan, sound economics, or demonstrated electric reliability need supporting the project.
- The agency’s responsibility to consider the environmental and climate impacts of hydropower in Canada.
In what must be a first for National Environmental Policy Act scoping meetings in New Hampshire, dispatches from the meetings went viral on Twitter (hashtag:: #northernpass) and other social media. I was one of several who “live-tweeted” and shared photos from one or more of the packed auditoriums:
— C. Courchesne (@courchesnec) September 24, 2013
With the scoping meetings behind us, the Department of Energy continues to accept public comments in writing and on its website through November 5. The question now: after Northern Pass failed so miserably to make project changes that would meaningfully increase its public support, will PSNH, Northeast Utilities, the federal government, and New England “listen” to what New Hampshire stakeholders are telling them about this project? With so many other options for our energy future, it’s long past time.