We were not shocked at the blatant point of view expressed by author Mr. Ted Williams in his recent “Incite” column in Audubon magazine, but we were surprised at the number of factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations included.
When Mr. Williams contacted Northern Pass late last year about an article he was writing for Audubon, we welcomed him and his questions as an opportunity for a measured examination of the many issues facing our region’s energy needs as well as the project.
Instead, his column “Pulling the Plug on an Energy Project in New England” repeats the same misleading (and in some cases fictional) talking points that project opponents promote, even as our region looks to address an emerging energy crisis. Mr. Williams’ tone throughout the piece does nothing to advance a productive discussion.
Here are a few of the article’s egregious inaccuracies and misrepresentations:
Overhead transmission structures and “habitat fragmentation” will cause “significant avian mortality”
These statements were made in the article with no supporting citations of scientific evidence. In fact, an existing transmission line in New Hampshire includes structures similar or larger than those proposed by Northern Pass; and, we are aware of no reports of related bird injuries or deaths.
In terms of alleged fragmentation, the vast majority of the proposed route is within existing rights of way, where there is no need to acquire additional land to expand the corridor. It is also interesting to contrast Mr. Williams’ claim regarding birds and rights of way with that of the Connecticut Audubon Society which has stated:
“…Power line rights-of-way provide excellent scrub and shrub habitat – areas of low, woody vegetation such as shrub thickets or regenerating young trees that are home to a number of specialized birds…”
Northern Pass is “reviled throughout New Hampshire…”
This statement not based in fact. Polling over several years has consistently found that more New Hampshire residents support Northern Pass than oppose it.
Northeast Utilities is a private corporation that “peddles electricity and natural gas…”
Both electricity and natural gas are critical commodities that residents and business, including Audubon, rely on every day. Regulated utilities, like the subsidiaries of Northeast Utilities, exist to ensure customers have access to these important commodities, at a reasonable price. Stating NU “peddles” these critical services ignores this reality.
Some (of the Northern Pass structures will be) 135 feet high
The most common structure heights across the project are 85 to 95 feet. The vast majority of structures are less than 100 feet and fewer than two percent are 135 feet. None of these facts appears in the column. By his word choice, Mr. Williams resorts to the same trickery employed by several project opponents.
Obviously, the location and the terrain surrounding a structure are critical factors as we work to reduce potential view impact. Suggesting that the height of a structure has a direct correlation on view shed ignores the rigorous visual impact analysis that must occur as part of the project’s federal and state permitting processes.
“Northern Pass’s challenge was to buy (or possibly seize) enough land…”
Northern Pass has never sought the use of eminent domain, nor does it plan to do so. As Mr. Williams’ acknowledges, state law prohibits the use of the eminent domain process for the project. The author’s reference to this issue simply mirrors the unsubstantiated allegations and scare tactics some opponents have employed.
Mr. Williams also cites three other proposed projects that he reports “will be underground and underwater.” In fact, it is unclear whether any of these projects will need to employ eminent domain.
“One of the reasons regional energy costs are so high is that the company insists on running two ancient coal-fired power plants…”
Regional energy costs are determined by New England’s independent marketplace, which has recently been dominated by the price of natural gas. Gas is currently the fuel of choice and sets the price in the market. Interestingly, this past winter the cost of electricity produced by coal and oil plants in the region (and even jet-fueled turbines on several days) was cheaper than energy from natural gas plants, which could not meet demand at an economical price.
ISO New England has not “determined we need” Northern Pass
The ISO has made clear, as part of its planning function, that New England needs 6,000 megawatts of new sources of energy by 2020. Further, the New England governors have signaled their support for new electric transmission infrastructure to import more power, as well as new natural gas pipelines.
Merchant energy projects like Northern Pass are exactly what were envisioned when New Hampshire and other New England states deregulated their electric utility industries more than a decade ago. Under this new model, it is up to the market and policymakers to conceive and propose new projects, and to ultimately determine what will be built.
Underground transmission projects are in “advanced planning” and burial is “profitable”
The projects Mr. Williams refers to lack a firm energy supplier and have not reached the advanced level of planning and engineering that Northern Pass has achieved. These projects are interesting and worthwhile concepts; however, until they secure agreements with a partner to supply the energy and to pay for their extremely high development costs, they are conceptual projects only.
The power delivered by Northern Pass is not clean or renewable
Hydropower is widely accepted as one of the cleanest sources of renewable energy available.
Williams cited the Forest Society as an authoritative voice opposing our Northern Pass project; yet, consider this recommendation that the Forest Society approved, in its role as member on the state’s Climate Action Task Force:
“…high voltage transmission lines should be built to import clean power generated from Canadian hydro and wind sources as a complementary policy to developing non-CO2-emitting generation in New Hampshire. Canada is developing vast new hydro and wind generation resources, which are greater than their local needs. This creates an opportunity for New Hampshire and the entire Northeast to obtain clean power….”
The simple fact is that the energy from Northern Pass will annually offset up to five million tons of carbon emissions. That is why the Forest Society voted for the recommendation. The concerns that the Society now expresses about potential visual impact do not change the reality of the environmental benefits the project will produce.
No project is perfect. No project is without opposition. But our region faces unprecedented energy prices and volatility. At the same time, we’re all looking to create a cleaner energy future. We need to debate projects on the facts – not false claims and tired lies.
For Hydro-Québec’s statement on this click here