What Is Northern Pass?
Northern Pass is a highly controversial proposal to run new 180 miles of new power lines from the Canadian border, through northern New Hampshire, down to Concord, and then eastward to Deerfield. The project is a collaboration between three utilities: Northeast Utilities (the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire, or PSNH), NSTAR, and Hydro-Quebec. According to this partnership, the $1.1 billion Northern Pass project would transport up to 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from Canada to the New England power grid.
What Northern Pass Needs
Among its main requirements, Northern Pass needs 40 miles of new electrical lines to run across forest land from the Canadian border to Groveton, in northern New Hampshire. And in order to run the lines, Northern Pass must secure rights-of-way through the 40 mile tract, and purchase the necessary land along the route. Developers say after that, by and large, PSNH’s existing rights-of-way should be enough to continue transmission of power southward. The exception is an eight mile stretch of land spanning Concord, Chichester, and Pembroke. To make this happen, Northern Pass would like to have the right-of-way adjacent to the Concord Municipal Airport.
Despite its statewide impacts, Northern Pass has proved especially controversial–and divisive–in the sparsely-populated and heavily forested North Country. Northern Pass staffers say the new lines would bring much-needed jobs and new tax revenue to a struggling part of the state.
But opponents of Northern Pass say the project would only offer a few, temporary jobs for residents when it’s under construction. They also say it will deface New Hampshire’s famous forests, thus hurting tourism, and the noise and fractured view will impinge on residents’ quality of life. (Depending on the location, developers say the project’s towers will range from 85 to 110 feet tall. Opponents say they could actually be up to 135 feet tall.) Some New Hampshire residents also question whether the state will actually benefit from the hydropower flowing into the New England grid. Other opponents to Northern Pass take a compromise position on the project, and say they would support it if the lines were buried.
Land Sales, Eminent Domain And The Legislature
Looming over the Northern Pass project is the question of land ownership and eminent domain. A number of North Country residents believe the utilities will eventually push for this legal option. The Concord Monitor’s Annmarie Timmins recently reported that landowners were secretly selling their land to Northern Pass to both avoid arguments with neighbors and to dodge the threat of having to sell their land under eminent domain at a much lower price. Meanwhile, during the 2011 legislative session the House passed a bill (HB 648) that appeared intended to head-off the possibility of Northern Pass invoking eminent domain. The bill prohibited for-profit companies from using this option unless it was necessary to ensure the reliability of the regional power grid. In December, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee watered down the restrictions by adding an amendment that would not forbid eminent domain, but rather require utilities to offer landowners twice the fair market value of their property. If the owners were to refuse, a utility project–like Northern Pass–could invoke eminent domain.
Recently, however, it appears Northern Pass has hit another land ownership snag. When the Tillotson Corporation put the Balsam’s Grand Resort up for sale, developers placed a bid for a slice of the resort’s land. Timmins, who studied how land changed hands over the course of several months, reported that the Balsam’s land seemed to be a critical component of Northern Pass moving forward. Developers offered the foundation $3 million for the land. Ultimately, however, the foundation approved a lower bid from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (Forest Society) which opposes Northern Pass. The Forest Society wants to put a conservation easement on the land.
At this point, the organization has until mid-January to raise $850,000 to keep the easement in place.
Northern Pass developers, meanwhile, have insisted that the Balsams land is not critical to the project moving forward.