Utility releases new Northern Pass plan calling for more buried lines, fewer poles, less power

Associated Press

A revised proposal to carry hydropower from Canada through New Hampshire calls for more buried transmission lines, fewer power poles and less juice flowing to consumers.

Bill Quinlan, president of Eversource Operations in New Hampshire, said Tuesday that the 192-mile Northern Pass would be buried for a total of 60 miles, including for 52 miles along public roadways through the White Mountains from Bethlehem to Bridgewater. The entire route would run from Pittsburg to Deerfield.

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Critics of the plan, including the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, have long objected to the original proposal that called for overhead lines through the mountains, saying the views, tourism, property values and the environment would be harmed. A U.S. Department of Energy draft environmental impact statement released last month came to the same conclusion.

Eversource countered that burying the lines would make the project too expensive. By cutting it from a 1,200-megawatt line to a 1,000-MW line in the revised proposal, the cost is still estimated at $1.4 billion, though that could rise, Quinlan said. 1,000 MW is enough to power a million homes.

"The changes make this a far better plan for New Hampshire from a view impact perspective," Quinlan said.

Jack Savage, a spokesman for the forest society, said the revisions are a step in the right direction but Eversource must still do more.

"Our position has been that if the line is to be built, it should be buried in its entirety and that's something they have pretty steadfastly refused to do," Savage said.

"Given that they just said they could bury another 52 miles without increasing the cost, we think that argues for a closer look at far more burial," Savage said.

New Englanders routinely pay the nation's highest energy costs, and the Northern Pass was seen as a way to pull in relatively clean hydropower from HydroQuebec generation plants into New Hampshire and ultimately into southern New England.

Besides the visual impacts, another complaint was that the power would bypass New Hampshire consumers and go to southern New England. Under the revision, Eversource will enter a 20-year power purchase agreement with HydroQuebec that will carve out 100 MW of electricity specifically for New Hampshire consumers, Quinlan said.

Highlights of the revisions include:

— 400 fewer power poles as a result of burying the lines through the mountains.

— The remaining poles will be 5 to 10 feet shorter on average because they will be carrying fewer megawatts and won't require an additional cable.

— Where possible, the company will use streamlined poles to reduce visual impacts.

The next steps include public hearings in the five counties affected by the plan and filing an application for site review with the state's Site Evaluation Committee. Quinlan said Eversource expects to file the application in mid-October. If approved, construction would begin a year later and the system would go online in 2019.

"It's not to say this plan is perfect," Quinlan said. "There may be changes that need to be made as we go through siting."

Savage agreed.

"We're saying, that's better but it still has to be better yet to be right for New Hampshire," he said.