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.
Recent media reports have focused on a lawsuit filed against the project and PSNH by the ownership of the Owl’s Nest Golf Club and Resort in Campton. The Owl’s Nest owners allege that the announcement of the Northern Pass proposal has adversely impacted the resort’s real estate sales. We feel it’s important to set the record straight.
PSNH has a long history of working successfully with neighbors along its rights-of-way on agreements that allow them to use the property for activities that do not affect the transmission or delivery of electricity. We believe that existing power line rights-of-way can coexist, as they have for many decades, with neighboring homes and businesses, including golf courses. PSNH owns and maintains more than 1,000 miles of transmission line rights-of-way throughout New Hampshire and has hundreds of joint use agreements along these rights-of-way with landowners, which typically allow them to make use of the rights-of-way for business or recreational purposes.
Owl’s Nest is a good example of such an arrangement. In fact, the resort’s website explains that it has been voted the best golf course in New Hampshire notwithstanding the existing transmission lines and right-of-way over the property. The power line easement and transmission lines at that location existed for decades before the Owl’s Nest’s purchase and development of the golf course.
In the years after the Owl’s Nest purchase of the property, the resort requested permission from PSNH to expand its operations and development within the power line right-of-way. PSNH agreed and worked cooperatively with Owl’s Nest on several occasions to permit the resort to use portions of the right-of-way for golf course operations, including a request to move a portion of the right-of-way in 2007 to accommodate the resort’s expansion. This 2007 agreement expressly recognized PSNH’s right to construct and install additional transmission lines, poles, towers, and related electric transmission equipment and facilities within the power line right-of-way; a provision that Owl’s Nest was fully aware of. In this lawsuit, the owners of Owl’s Nest claim that they were misled by PSNH about the terms of the 2007 agreement and its intended use. This claim is not only untrue, but is incredible in light of the clear language of the 2007 agreement.
Any allegation that the announcement of the Northern Pass project in late 2010 triggered the decline in Owl’s Nest real estate sales is simply wrong and has no basis in fact. Publicly available data clearly shows that the resort has suffered the effects of a deep recession that began well before the Northern Pass project, significantly impacting the New Hampshire real estate market. It is unfortunate that Owl’s Nest, like many others across our state and the rest of the country, has been impacted by this economic downturn.
We remain open to continuing our cooperative dialogue with Owl’s Nest to address any legitimate concerns they may have with our proposal; however, the claims now being made ignore or misstate the facts.
For our part, we are focused on continuing our landowner outreach efforts and working to address legitimate concerns with our proposal through open, thoughtful, and fact-based discussions. We are confident the project can be sited in a responsible manner that ensures New Hampshire can benefit from clean, low-cost hydro power, hundreds of jobs, and millions in new taxes Northern Pass will provide.
LandWorks, an independent firm skilled in landscape study, is working on the development of a visual impact analysis which is a necessary component of the project’s permitting process.
The firm has recently authored a document describing how that analysis will be produced.
In related news, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), which has previously stated that it is opposed to The Northern Pass project, has produced a document critical of the work that is still to be done by LandWorks. Unfortunately, in an attempt to stop a clean energy project that will bring much needed jobs and low-cost power to New Hampshire, the club has chosen to misrepresent the actual process for evaluating potential view impacts.
What AMC is calling its “visual impact assessment” is, in fact, a deeply flawed document written by club staff with no apparent qualifications or experience conducting a professional visual impact assessment.
Back in May, we posted a visual simulation booklet of what The Northern Pass transmission line will look like from actual locations along the preliminary preferred route (based on preliminary engineering). These visual simulations were produced by LandWorks, a landscape architecture and planning firm out of Middlebury, VT, using sophisticated and industry-accepted software and software methodologies.
To make the simulations easier to find, we’ve stripped them out of the booklet into individual PDFs which are now posted on each of the relevant towns’ community pages. Here are direct links to the PDFs:
Many people have expressed concern about the potential visual impacts associated with The Northern Pass project. In response to these concerns, the project team hired LandWorks, a landscape architecture and planning firm, to produce a visual simulation booklet showing what the project will look like from locations where people would potentially see it from. These visual simulations were produced using sophisticated and industry-accepted software and software methodologies.
The goal of the visual simulations is not to make the project look good or bad, but to provide an objective perspective and sampling of what the project will look like from as many different vantage points as makes sense. Visual simulations typically focus on views from public vantage points rather than from individual residences.
For each vantage point included in the booklet, LandWorks provides a “before” image of what the view looks like today, and visual simulations showing what the view would look like with the inclusion of The Northern Pass transmission line using two typical industry designs: a) lattice transmission structures; and b) monopole transmission structures.
Photographs were taken using a 50 to 55mm lens, which registers similar to what the human eye sees. Because the eye acknowledges a 120- to 160-degree “cone of vision,” LandWorks tends to add a little more to the image on the left and right sides to provide a more accurate, panoramic view.
In LandWorks’ experience, these visual simulations tend to look very close to (or exactly the same as) what the project will actually look like from these vantage points once built. Additional visual simulations will be posted on the Northern Pass website as they become available.
Note: There are two versions of the Visual Simulations booklet, each sized for different types of paper. Exact sizes can be found in the 11 x 17 version, which is the full size document. The 8½ x 11 version of the Visual Simulations booklet, though easier to print, has been reduced by 40%, which may impact the perceived scale (i.e. objects may be larger or smaller than they appear).
One common misconception about The Northern Pass project is that all of the transmission structures will be 135 feet high—or taller. In fact, the anticipated height of most Northern Pass transmission structures is as follows:
Taller structures (up to 135 feet) will only be used along the route when necessary:
As a general rule, the wider a ROW, the shorter a structure that is needed.
The following photograph show what The Northern Pass transmission line is expected to look like from actual locations along the preliminary preferred route. For illustrative purposes only, based on preliminary engineering. For a larger version, please click on the image.