The Northern Pass Transmission Line is currently undergoing a series of hearings before the NH Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) to try to obtain a permit to build their line. Hundreds of interveners have attended the hearings to protest the line’s construction, and the recent string of events shows Northern Pass’ proposal to be slowly eroding.
Thankfully, Senate Bill 128 (see my most recent post on the Northern Pass for more information on this) was not passed by the NH House but was retained for consideration in later years (http://indepthnh.org/2017/05/10/long-term-power-legislation-stalls-in-nh-house-committee/). If passed, the bill would have allowed Northern Pass to private resell power from Hydro Quebec and legalize the breaking of their promise to NH ratepayers that they will not bear any of the costs for the transmission line. The NH Public Utilities Commission (PUC) went so far as to say that it became clear after reading the bill that it was introduced for the sole purpose of overriding the PUC’s authority and clearing the path for Northern Pass’ construction.
Northern Pass’ Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) was also recently dismissed by the PUC. This PPA would have allowed Eversource to resell the power it received from Hydro Quebec on the open market in much the same way that SB 128 would have (http://www.unionleader.com/energy/PUC-will-not-reconsider-Eversource-deal-for-buying-a-portion-of-Northern-Pass-power-04262017). It is clear that Eversource is willing to try multiple avenues to find a loophole through which they can make extra money at the expense of NH ratepayers.
The first day of hearings featured Eversource President Bill Quinlan, who was questioned by Tom Pappas in his role as Counsel for the Public (https://forestsociety.org/blog-post/northern-pass-hearings-week-one). Pappas eventually pulled some interesting facts out of Quinlan, such as an admission that most of the land needed for underground burial hasn’t even been obtained yet. Quinlan acknowledged that Eversource had not considered simply upgrading their current lines to carry more power (which happens to be exactly what National Grid’s proposal will do). It is interesting to note that as soon as the topic of National Grid’s proposed line was raised, Eversource’s legal counsel futilely tried to dismiss the topic as irrelevant. Perhaps the most significant admission from Quinlan was that the much-touted Forward NH Fund that is supposed to provide the “public benefit” necessary for receiving an SEC permit doesn’t even exist yet (https://forestsociety.org/news-article/eversource-nh-president-quinlan-hot-seat). Pappas also raised several other concerns, including the fact that money was wired to certain interveners on Northern Pass’ behalf almost immediately after they agreed to become a public intervener.
The second round of hearings featured Eversource’s Michael Ausere and Kenneth Bowes from the financial department (https://forestsociety.org/blog-post/northern-pass-sec-week-two). After noting that several of Eversource’s studies on behalf of the Northern Pass had been cherry-picked from earlier data, the attorneys for the Forest Society broke down the cost of burying the line. Northern Pass has estimated that complete burial would cost an extra $1 billion, bringing the total bill for the line to $2.6 billion rather than $1.6 billion. Attorney Jason Reimers for the Forest Society, however, led Mr. Ausere and Mr. Bowes through the actual costs per town, arriving at a cost of $9.4 million per mile. Mr. Reimers asked Mr. Bowes to multiply that number by 192 (the number of miles in the proposed Northern Pass line) and got a total of $1.8 billion, a full $800,000,000 less than Northern Pass’ estimate. Burying the line may therefore not be as hard as Northern Pass wants us to think it is.
Week #3 of the hearings was relatively uneventful, as there were no actual hearings (https://forestsociety.org/blog-post/northern-pass-sec-week-three). However, there were two very interesting developments in the case that deserve attention. First, the SEC denied Northern Pass’ motion to prohibit certain interveners to testify against Northern Pass. In particular, Northern Pass sought to prohibit the showing of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAR2X846lEA&feature=youtu.be. Secondly, Northern Pass tried to prohibit certain interveners from testifying against Northern Pass in regards to alternative routes or methods of transmission. The SEC quickly denied this motion as well. Both of these attempts to silence the specific testimony of interveners against Northern Pass are very telling. There is obviously information in the video above and in the testimony of NH’s citizens that Northern Pass doesn’t want on the record.
The fourth week of proceedings featured four days of hearings (https://forestsociety.org/blog-post/northern-pass-trial-week-four). While the original plan was to start with the questioning of Northern Pass’ Construction department and work through two other departments before ending with the questioning of the Environmental department, the end of the fourth day found the Construction department still on the stand. This lengthy questioning process points to the many concerns and issues with the proposal as well as to the large number of interveners from the public. One issue in particular from these sessions deserves mention. When questioned about the impacts of the Northern Pass on travel, tourism, and local business associated with travel and tourism (NH relies very heavily on snow-related tourism in particular), Northern Pass’ Traffic Management Expert revealed that she hadn’t done any research on the topic (http://www.unionleader.com/Kathy-Sullivan-Hearings-reveal-true-costs-of-Northern-Pass-05102017). One would think that a company that wants a transmission line as badly as Northern Pass does would invest more time and energy into creating at least a tolerably comprehensive proposal.
Northern Pass continues to claim that, despite all of the concerning facts revealed in the hearings, that their transmission line is a benefit to the public. They do so because they know that the SEC will only grant them a permit if their project is shown to provide a reasonably significant public benefit for the state of NH. This public benefit, they say, is that the Northern Pass will open the door for many new renewable energy projects in NH. I find that claim quite unbelievable. Are we to believe that their running of a transmission line through our state (to the detriment of our tourism, forestry, and environmental sectors) is going to be the catalyst for a sudden wave of renewable energy development that is supposedly just waiting to grow until the Northern Pass is built? What renewable energy ideas are they talking about (that aren’t already in process)? Will these new forms of energy all of a sudden receive enough funding that the Northern Pass’ construction will somehow throw them into state-wide use? And how exactly does the building of 192 miles of towers relate to energy development in NH’s towns, especially since the energy it will be transmitting isn’t even coming from NH or going to NH? I, for one, feel that having to do mental gymnastics to try to understand Northern Pass’ supposed public benefit is not a reassuring sign.
Perhaps the public benefit will be found in the money it will save NH ratepayers on electricity. The think-tank Brattle Group, however, did a study on that exact topic and found that the Northern Pass would only reduce the average electric bill by less than $1 per month (https://www.nhsec.nh.gov/projects/2015-06/testimony/2015-06_2017-04-17_supp_test_newell_weiss_exa_redacted.pdf). While saving a couple bucks a year in electric costs is nice, it is certainly not an amount that justifies the damage that Northern Pass will do the state’s tourism industry, forestry industry, hospitality industry, and environmental quality.