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.
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.
One of the most common questions asked about the project is “What is it going to look like?”
Fortunately, a process is in place that will provide an accurate answer.
The Northern Pass project will produce a Visual Impact Assessment as part of the State permitting process with the NH Site Evaluation Committee. In addition, we expect the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will prepare its own Visual Impact Assessment as part of the Environmental Impact Statement it prepares in conjunction with the processing of Northern Pass’ application for a Presidential Permit. The Northern Pass project’s Assessment will include an “inventory” of views from public vantage points from which one will be able to see the project—that is, its structures and conductor. Importantly, the Assessment will also include many visual simulations that will accurately portray views of the project from those areas. There will be multiple views, showing the project from various vantage points and at various times, to account for changes in background conditions. The Assessment will follow the guidelines set forth in the U.S. Forest Service’s Landscape Aesthetics – A Handbook for Scenery Management and the National Forest Landscape Management series Volume 2, Chapter 2 entitled Utilities, Utility Vegetation Management.
We raise this issue in part because a staff member of the Appalachian Mountain Club recently provided misleading and inaccurate information to the media about the process of assessing visual impact in the project area and what has been done to date.
To be clear, no Assessment has yet been produced by The Northern Pass.
The visual simulation photographs that have already been produced by The Northern Pass and shared publicly were prepared to help inform community officials and members of the public as to what the project might look like. While the simulations do not constitute a Visual Impact Assessment, and have not been presented as such, they were produced by an expert firm, highly skilled and experienced in the production of Assessments using the U.S. Forest Service criteria.
Data collected by The Northern Pass as part of our analysis will be publicly available and will be provided to the DOE.
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).