The following op-ed by Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass, recently appeared in a number of New Hampshire newspapers, including the Laconia Daily Sun.
Northern Pass is Committed to Working with Businesses Along the Route
By Martin Murray
Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft Record of Decision recommending approval of Northern Pass’ underground route within the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). It said the project is in the public interest because it will meet the region’s “long-term energy needs in a sustainable, secure, and cost-effective manner.” Northern Pass is a clean energy project that will transmit enough hydropower to power 1 million homes. It will reduce CO2 emissions by 3.2 million metric tons a year, the equivalent of taking 670,000 cars off the road. The project is consistent with New Hampshire’s Clean Energy Action Plan and will provide an affordable and reliable baseload source of clean energy as older power plants close and we continue to add more intermittent sources such as solar and wind.
The draft Record of Decision also supports the project’s proposed route, saying it “is a reasonable way to transmit electrical power through the WMNF in a minimally impactful way when considering all available alternatives.”
The decision to bury the project for a total of 60 miles, with 52 of those miles in and around the White Mountain National Forest, came after numerous meetings with New Hampshire residents and stakeholders, who emphasized the importance of avoiding view impacts in that region. The improved route does just that, eliminating view impacts in the Forest, Franconia State Park area, and along the Appalachian Trail.
The improved route is part of our effort to reduce the impact to New Hampshire while also bringing affordably-priced clean energy to the region. We’ve also reached out to each community along the route to discuss how best to avoid impacts during construction. Through mutually agreed upon memorandums of understanding, or MOUs, Northern Pass can address a community’s unique needs, such as consideration of community events and other local and seasonal activities, equipment storage and staging areas, coordination with emergency responders, and establishing responsibility for any damage to roads. We have already signed MOUs with four towns and are in discussions with others.
We appreciate that running a small business can be challenging and that a project of this magnitude may cause concern. We know we must find ways to lessen the impact of construction, and we will work with local chambers and other groups to promote and support uninterrupted commerce throughout construction. Northern Pass has submitted a construction plan to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee that includes regular communications with business owners, traffic management plans, signage directing customers to temporary parking, outreach to customers through newspapers and other media, and a special “hotline” and online communications for quick response to problems, should they arise.
We have made a pledge to hire New Hampshire workers first. Workers who, as much as any small business owner along the route, want to see this state succeed. Those workers will need to fill up their gas tanks, grab a meal, wash their clothes, spend the night, and make other purchases while on the job. These are purchases that will be made in towns along and around the route, and economic data shows spending associated with Northern Pass will boost New Hampshire’s economy, not diminish it.
Northern Pass has sent letters and updates to landowners and businesses along the route, asking for feedback and inviting anyone with questions or concerns to give us a call. We are a New Hampshire company with many long-time New Hampshire residents working to bring more clean energy to the region. We want to see New Hampshire businesses grow and succeed, and are dedicated to working with local officials, meeting with businesses and communicating to residents and tourists alike that their favorite destinations are open for business.
Any business owner who would like to talk to a Northern Pass representative may do so by calling 1-800-286-7305.
A new emergency radio transmissions antenna in the North Country is enhancing public safety by providing service in areas that were previously dead-zones. The new equipment has made it possible for first responders to dispatch and receive critical information during an incident in areas where service was historically limited.
“We appreciate the enhanced radio service that is possible thanks to funding from Northern Pass,” said Gerry Marcou, Coös County Sherriff. “The new technology facilitates our deputies’ work to protect the citizens of Coos County, making our police force more efficient and our community safer.”
Before this new equipment was installed on Morse Mountain cell tower in Groveton, there were areas where first responders were unable to communicate with each other at all. The new technology has made it possible for first responders to use portable radios at the scene of an incident. The new radio system went live in September, providing greatly enhanced radio communications to Whitefield, Dalton, Jefferson, Lancaster, Northumberland, Stark, Stratford and Lunenburg, Vermont.
“If we are responding to an emergency inside a home and something changes drastically, we are able to immediately call for back-up,” said Steven Jones, Assistant Fire Chief of Lancaster. “With this system, we have seen a significant improvement in the efficiency of our communications.”
Additionally, the new equipment is making it easier for communities to call for and provide mutual aid during major emergency events.
“The majority of our firefighters are volunteers,” Jones said. “Prior to the installation of the radio equipment, if a volunteer firefighter lived in a dead zone, they wouldn’t get the call. Thanks to this emergency radio equipment, we are able to direct our personnel to an emergency more quickly and efficiently.”
The Northern Pass Transmission Project, as part of its Forward NH Plan, funded the installation of the public safety service antenna, and will continue to pay the associated annual rental expense. This new emergency radio equipment will build upon the success in filling gaps in the region’s broadband and cellular coverage achieved with the construction of the Morse Mountain cell tower, which was also funded in part by the Northern Pass project.
The emergency radio equipment is one of a number of commitments by Northern Pass as part of its Forward New Hampshire plan. The project also funded the recent installation of LED streetlights in Lancaster and an electric vehicle charging station at Roger’s Campground in Lancaster.
Developer Les Otten recently testified in support of Northern Pass at the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee public information session in Coös County. In his remarks, he spoke not only about his proposed redevelopment of The Balsams Resort in Dixville and the opportunities this will bring to the North Country economy, but also about the economic and clean energy benefits that Northern Pass offers to New Hampshire. Otten is a strong supporter of renewable energy, having a wood pellet business among his portfolio of ventures. He believes the Northern Pass is a critical source of affordable, low-carbon energy that will help move our region toward our clean energy goals, while also bringing jobs and economic activity to communities along the route.
We at Northern Pass also want to see an economic revival in the North Country and believe it’s critical that The Balsams redevelopment stay on schedule. That’s why we’re pleased to advance $2 million from the Forward New Hampshire Fund to ensure that the project breaks ground this summer. The plans for The Balsams are precisely what we envisioned when we set the goals for the Forward New Hampshire Fund.
The Forward New Hampshire Fund is a cornerstone of the Forward New Hampshire Plan, announced by Northern Pass last August. The $200 million we have committed to this Fund is aimed at supporting economic development, community betterment, tourism, and clean energy initiatives in the cities and towns along the route, especially those in the North Country. There is perhaps no single effort at this time that supports these goals more than the current plans to redevelop The Balsams and return it to a world class destination resort. Like Northern Pass, The Balsams redevelopment has the opportunity to be transformative for the North Country, bringing jobs, economic development and injecting a much needed boost into the area’s tourism industry.
The Northern Pass has already supported several key initiatives aimed at supporting New Hampshire communities and the environment, including the Coos County Job Creation Association, the Morse Mountain cell tower, and the Partners for New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife. Northern Pass and The Balsams both present significant opportunities for Coös County, the state, and beyond. We’re pleased to support the redevelopment of this North Country showpiece.
Five hearings provide an opportunity for residents to participate in the State permitting process
Today the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) scheduled a series of five Public Information Sessions. The Public Information Sessions are another step forward for Northern Pass as it makes its way through the state review process.
The locations, dates and times of these sessions are listed in an order and notice issued by the SEC, as well as a separate procedural order. Under state law, Public Information Sessions must be held in each county in which the proposed facility is to be located within 45 days of a project’s application being accepted. Similar to the Public Information Sessions held in September, they give residents another opportunity to participate in the state approval process.
“The purpose of the public information session is to provide the public with information on the proposed Project, to provide an opportunity for comments and questions from the public, and to explain the process the Subcommittee will follow in reviewing the application,” states the public notice issued by the SEC today.
Before and during the Public Information Sessions, Northern Pass will also host an Open House for residents who wish to learn more about the project and meet with project representatives one-on-one. Open Houses will begin at 5 p.m. at each of the venues listed below.
Merrimack County: January 11, 2016 at 6 p.m., Franklin Opera House, 316 Central Street, Franklin, NH
Rockingham County: January 13, 2016 at 6 p.m., Londonderry High School, 295 Mammoth Road, Londonderry, NH
Belknap County: January 14, 2016 at 6 p.m., Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, 62 Doris Ray Court, Laconia, NH
Coös County: January 20, 2016 at 6 p.m., Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, 101 Mountain View Road, Whitefield, NH
Grafton County: January 21, 2016 at 6 p.m., The Mountain Club on Loon Resort and Spa, 90 Loon Mountain Road, Lincoln, NH
Support for Northern Pass continues to grow! An independent issues survey released earlier this week finds the strongest support yet for the project, with 46 percent of New Hampshire residents supporting the project and just 35 percent opposing it. The results are in line with what we have been hearing through our outreach efforts in recent months, and offer further proof that – the more people learn about Northern Pass, the more likely they are to support it.
Reading into the data gives a clearer picture of what kind of energy future New Hampshire residents want and how they want to get there. For instance:
These results will no doubt prompt policy makers to reconsider some of the popular misconceptions surrounding energy projects, and the actual concerns expressed by the public.
This chart, taken from the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce 2014 Public Opinion Survey, shows growing support and declining opposition to Northern Pass. Source: Greater Nashua Chamber
New England’s governors have called for the construction of both new natural gas pipeline and transmission lines, and they envision utility customers paying for these projects. The potential for public funding for the construction of energy projects is now, as one Vermont official predicted, drawing developers “out of the woodwork” with costly proposals designed to help New England meet its energy goals. It is clear these projects are needed, yet it’s also evident that the public has concerns about picking up the tab.
And here is where Northern Pass is different. As proposed, Northern Pass is a “merchant” or “participant-funded” project. This means that, under the current plan, customers won’t pay for the construction of the line. The cost of building long-distance underground transmission lines (five to ten times higher than overhead construction) has the potential to make a participant-funded projects uneconomic. This is one of the reasons why just 0.5 percent of all transmission lines in the country are underground.
New Hampshire residents have spoken. They want to add new sources of clean, renewable energy to the grid, and in a cost-efficient manner. Northern Pass will not only connect our grid to a major source of hydropower, it can also plug New Hampshire into its energy future.
All six New England governors commit to joint energy infrastructure agenda – Bangor Daily News
New England States Committee on Electricity Letter to ISO New England – Request for help in developing “tariff filings related to electric and natural gas infrastructure in New England.”
New England States Debate Sharing Costs For New Power Lines – Vermont Public Radio
Companies want to build multimillion-dollar power lines through Maine – Portland Press Herald
Out of Sight, Out of Mind 2012 – Edison Electric Institute
Power outages often spur questions around burying power lines – US Energy Information Administration
For the first time in several weeks the big news on the energy front isn’t about the cold weather – though that’s likely to return before the winter is through. This week’s biggest energy story looks a little further into the future. Three years to be exact, when the region’s grid operator says there will be a shortfall of the energy we’re likely to need.
This scenario is years in the making and will take years to solve. Market conditions, aging facilities, and a lack of new energy projects on the horizon are all factors that add up to a shortfall. Power plants are closing but, because of the regulatory process and other hurdles, projects that could make up for their loss are still years from coming online.
We need more sources of power, we need them to be diverse and renewable, and we need to be working on them now. Here’s a look at the problems darkening New England’s energy outlook:
The Nashua Telegraph’s “Granite Geek” takes a comprehensive look at all the factors that played into this year’s energy futures auction and the projected 2017 capacity shortfall.
The capacity shortfall anticipated for 2017 will have an impact on prices for most utility consumers. NHPR explains the relationship between the lower supply and higher energy costs.
New England will lose 600 megawatts of power when the Vermont Yankee power plant shuts down this year. The company that owns that plant, and another in Massachusetts, warns in this Forbes article that the region’s over-reliance on a single fuel source like natural gas threatens the viability of other power producers.
Despite warnings of blackouts and other complications, the owners of Brayton Point in Massachusetts have set a closing date of June 1st, 2017. As reported on South Coast Today, the company expects other projects would come on line that would eliminate the need to keep running.
There are as many as 10 proposals for new or expanded natural gas pipeline in New England, but much of that new energy won’t be available until 2018 at the earliest. Meanwhile, as Bloomberg Businessweek points out, power plants use of natural gas has jumped from producing 30% of our electricity in 2001 to 52% today, without a single new pipeline being built.
Public Invited to Attend Workshops on the State Process and Criteria for Siting Energy Facilities
During the first two weeks of December, the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) will be holding five workshops around the state to gather input from the public on the processes and criteria used by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) to determine whether to permit the construction and operation of energy facilities. These include wind generation projects, natural gas pipelines, and electric transmission lines. This is an extremely complicated technical and legal issue that needs an informed discussion about how the SEC has performed over the years, how other states address the siting of energy projects, and what the possible repercussions of any potential changes would mean for the state’s energy future.
Northern Pass is just one project that could be affected by changes in the siting process and criteria. All energy projects proposed in the future may be caught up in such a change as well, a change which could have a ripple effect on jobs, energy costs and economic development for years to come. While this issue is complicated, your voice is important to effectively shape New Hampshire’s energy future. We ask you to consider attending one of the citizen workshops listed below. If you’d like to learn more about these workshops or want to attend, please email us at email@example.com.
Workshops begin with sign-in at 5 p.m., and discussion begins at 6 p.m. They will end at approximately 9:30 p.m. Space is limited to 150-200 people depending on the site. You must pre-register to participate, and you may only sign up for one location.
To REGISTER for a Citizen Workshop: click here
December 3: Manchester Memorial High School Cafeteria
December 4: Groveton High School Gymnasium
December 5: Keene Recreation Center
December 9: Town of Newington Main Hall
December 10: Plymouth Regional High School in Plymouth
Why is this important?
Northern Pass must obtain a number of state and federal permits before it can begin construction. One of these permits is a Certificate of Site and Facility, which grants state authority to proposed energy facilities to move forward. This certificate is given by the Site Evaluation Committee.
The SEC was formed in 1971 by the Legislature to regulate the siting of large electric generating stations and transmission lines. It reviews a developer’s financial, technical and managerial ability to construct and operate a project. It also considers whether the project’s development would unduly interfere with “orderly development of the region” or have an “unreasonable adverse effect” on a number of factors, including historic sites, air and water quality, and the public health and safety.
Northern Pass will bring 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower into New Hampshire through a 300 kV high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line, so it must go before the Site Evaluation Committee for approval. This is expected to happen sometime in 2014.
This well-established process is facing changes because of a bill passed earlier this year aimed at overhauling the system.
Senate Bill 99, also known as SB 99, required the Office of Energy and Planning to hire an outside consulting group to generate reports on the SEC process and its energy facility siting criteria. The consultants were not hired until the end of September and are required to produce two full reports by the end of the year. We feel this is an unrealistic timeline for such a complex and critical undertaking.
The SB 99 citizen workshops have been scheduled as part of this process and are being widely advertised. People are being asked to come and answer questions on complex regulatory topics before the questions that will be asked have even been written. This approach is flawed; more time is needed for the consultants to do an adequate job for any useful information to come out of the workshops.
We have no issue with reviewing government regulations, especially in light of the recent Business Industry Association report calling for a streamlined SEC process. But at a time when clean sources of power are needed in New England, it is troubling that SB 99 could result in making the process harder for all energy projects, including Northern Pass. We feel that both New Hampshire and the SEC process are not well-served by a SB 99 process that lacks sufficient time, resources, and expertise in the siting process. The discussion should also provide a meaningful perspective on energy supply issues that are of critical importance to New Hampshire.
What’s at stake?
As it stands, the Legislature’s deadlines, and the efforts of the OEP and its consultants to meet those deadlines, have created a dilemma for those who support a strong and stable energy future for New Hampshire. How do we work within a flawed process and avoid a situation that could produce unreliable data from these workshops, and which would then would then be used by legislators who are determined to prevent the construction of energy projects in New Hampshire?
That is why people with a wide range of opinions should be present at these workshops – not just people opposed to energy projects – to give the state the information it needs to determine whether New Hampshire should change the siting process that has served it well for many years.
The purpose of SB 99 is to review New Hampshire’s current permitting process for energy facility projects, but it has the potential to adversely change the way in which energy projects are sited in New Hampshire. Despite many siting professionals’ opinions that New Hampshire’s current process works well, opponents of energy projects see SB 99 as an opportunity to create new regulatory hurdles to stop energy development in New Hampshire. Permitting is a major aspect of any energy project, and adding additional costs, time and regulatory uncertainty has the effect of driving away energy development in our state.
The SB 99 consultant responsible for carrying out the studies is surveying New Hampshire citizens about their views on energy development and permitting. Your opinion is very important to ensure that permitting of energy projects remains fair and considers the views of all New Hampshire citizens – not just those that oppose energy projects.
What the project will look like and where it will be visible are among the most common questions we hear from residents and landowners. These discussions, unfortunately, are often subject to misinformation, speculation, and inaccurate conclusions of what the actual visual impact of the project will be.
Fortunately, a process is in place to provide clear, factual answers. The state and federal permitting process require professional view impact assessments produced by independent experts. The public deserves no less than a thorough analysis done by such experts, and based on accurate data.
We raise this issue because, yet again, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is providing misleading information to the public about the potential visual impacts of the project. The AMC recently released a series of videos that claim to show the project’s visual impacts. In reality, the videos do not conform to any widely accepted visual assessment methodologies, and do not offer an accurate visual assessment of the project.
AMC suggests that the videos depict the “highest visual impacts” within a ½ mile of the project, with no qualification of the nature of that visibility, other than the potential number of structures visible. In accepted visual impact assessment methodologies, visibility alone is not considered to be an adverse or unacceptable impact. That determination is made by considering additional factors such as viewing distance, how much of the individual structures are visible, the height, type and color of those structures, the context within which the structures are viewed, and the sensitivity of the resource or viewing locations. In addition, no explanation was provided to indicate how “tower visibility” was determined or whether the video accounted for topography and tree heights (It did not).
Rather than provide this important data and analysis, the AMC video instead relies on generalities and overly broad assertions that are not supported by facts and ignore the methodologies commonly employed by visual experts.
It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that AMC has opted to again mislead the public on this issue. The organization has made its opposition to Northern Pass publicly known in many forums, and has used the project as a fundraising tool. The AMC has a clear bias and we believe it is incapable of providing a fair analysis of the project.
The federal and state permitting processes, which require Northern Pass to use professional visual experts and accepted methodologies, will provide the public with an accurate, clear, factual assessment of the visual impacts of the project.
Whether it is wind, solar, new transmission lines, or a power plant – all energy projects carry impacts of varying degrees. Northern Pass is no different, but the public consideration of the project’s impacts, including its tremendous energy, economic, and environmental benefits, must be based on facts.
Project representatives will be heading to Sugar Hill this week to meet with residents and landowners at another Northern Pass open house. This event will give residents an opportunity to speak with project representatives, including engineers, property tax analysts and environmental experts. Local officials and residents are encouraged to attend. Materials and visual simulations specific to the Sugar Hill area will be available.
Sugar Hill Open House
Wednesday, Oct. 23
Sunset Hill House
231 Sunset Hill Road
Drop by anytime between 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm
For the past few months, we’ve been visiting towns along the project’s proposed route to provide residents and landowners with detailed information about the project and to answer their questions. We’ve provided visual simulations of where the lines will be located as well as information about structure design, increased tax revenue, and jobs.
At all the events, we’ve also gathered feedback from residents, local officials and landowners. Northern Pass representatives appreciate the respectful conversations we have had throughout our open house series and look forward to continuing the dialogue this week in Sugar Hill.