August 11, 2014

Federal Report: Significant Advantages to Burying Northern Pass Type Transmission Lines

Federal Report: Significant Advantages to Burying Transmission Lines

By Chris Jensen, NHPR

A new federal report about an electric transmission project in New York says there are a lot of good reasons to bury such lines and that is likely to give opponents of Northern Pass ammunition in their campaign to get the lines underground...

The U.S. Department of Energy analyzed the impact of the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express, which hopes to carry power from Canada to the New York metro area.

If given final approval by the DOE the route would stretch 336 miles. For about 141 miles the lines would be buried alongside roads or railway lines.

In its final Environmental Impact Statement the DOE concluded burying the lines would make them less vulnerable to storm damage or terrorist attacks. It would also be less disruptive to the environment and reduce maintenance.

“The Champlain Hudson document really confirms that the underground transmission options are economically and technically feasible and in many cases have substantial advantages over the overhead approach that is favored by Northern Pass,” said Christophe Courchesne is an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.

But in a statement Northern Pass spokeswoman Lauren Collins said every energy project is “different and these differences influence design and cost.”

She said Northern Pass estimates burying the line along its existing rights-of-way would cost $15 million to $20 million per mile compared to $3 million per mile for overhead lines.

Officials at Champlain Express have estimated the cost of burying their lines alongside those roads and railway lines will be about $5.5 million per mile.

The project pays the railroad a fee for using the right-of-way but there is no charge for running the lines alongside a highway because it is considered a public benefit, said Andrew Rush, a spokesman for the project.  In the Hudson River and under Lake Champlain payments are made to the state.

Northern Pass says it wants to use its own rights-of-way “obtained by working with willing landowners and using existing power line rights-of-way.”

Using state rights-of-way might require payments to New Hampshire.

The Department of Energy is conducting a similar Environmental Impact Statement on the Northern Pass Project. However, the draft EIS is not expected until late this year.

But it is expected to include – as part of its examination of alternatives – a look at burying the Northern Pass lines.

“The contents of the final EIS demonstrate that burial is a real alternative. The thing is that you have to pick the right route,” said Ken Kimball, the director of research  for the Appalachian Mountain Club which opposes the Northern Pass.

August 1, 2014

Why Burying Transmission Cables is a Viable Alternative

By Will Abbott

From the beginning, the main issue the Forest Society has had with Northern Pass has been with how the project proposes to bring electrons to the marketplace.  We are not philosophically opposed to importing electricity from Canada, but we are opposed to the 180-mile scar that the proposed overhead towers would create on New Hampshire landscapes from Pittsburg to Deerfield.
If the power is needed, or even desired, we believe there is new technology available that makes it possible for New Hampshire to accommodate Northern Pass in a way that is good for the state, for Quebec and for the utility proposing to build Northern Pass (Northeast Utilities, owner of Public Service Company of New Hampshire).

The new technology involves a buried high-voltage, direct current cable designed to be placed in a trench that dissipates the heat from the cables. By using a trench dug along an existing transportation right of way, like an interstate highway or a continuous railroad right of way where the state already owns the land beneath the right of way, Northern Pass could be built in a way that avoids the adverse visual impacts of overhead lines.  In addition, the state would generate a little extra money for its depleted highway fund by leasing the right of way to the utility.

One company that manufactures this new cable calls its product “HVDC Light.”  The company, a Swiss firm by the name of ABB, Inc., is so attracted to the future of this product that they have recently completed a new $400 million manufacturing facility in North Carolina to manufacture this and other cable products.  A representative from ABB has testified before New Hampshire legislative committees to explain how its product works.  The cable itself costs $2 million a mile, and, based on previous installations, company representatives estimate that trench costs for a previously disturbed corridor are in the range of $3-$4 million a mile.  This makes the total likely cost significantly below the claimed expense of $20 million a mile being made by representatives of Northeast Utilities.

If southern New England states need electrons from Quebec to meet their electric needs, and if they prefer this over building new generating facilities in their own states, it only seems fair that they should pay for the cost of burying Northern Pass through New Hampshire.  Or, at least they should be willing to pay the differential cost between overhead lines and buried lines on existing state-owned rights of way.  The N.H. Department of Transportation has already identified New Hampshire’s  three existing interstate highways (plus Route 101 from Manchester to the Seacoast) as appropriate corridors for such buried facilities to be studied further.  Maybe Hydro-Quebec can partner with the southern New England states to share these added costs. 

The decision to site such an extension-cord facility in New Hampshire remains with the state and its people.   Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec should not be allowed to jam overhead power lines down New Hampshire’s throat -- particularly in a situation like this where the electrons are not needed to keep the lights on.  Northern Pass is being built as a for-profit enterprise to benefit the shareholders of Northeast Utilities and the ratepayers of Quebec.  They are in business to make money (which is not a bad thing) and they have the right to propose a project that makes them more money.  They should not, however, be entitled to make money at the expense of one of New Hampshire’s greatest assets.  They are not entitled to scar the landscapes that are the social and economic fabric of our communities.

If the people behind Northern Pass want to build a project in New Hampshire that has broad public support, they should withdraw the project they have proposed and offer a new project that completely buries the new facility along appropriate state-owned transportation corridors.   Otherwise, the project should be abandoned altogether.

Will Abbott is vice president of Policy and Reservation Stewardship at the Forest Society.

July 18, 2014

Northern Pass Updates: DOE Releases Preliminary Alternatives Report; a Northern Pass Competitor Files for Presidential Permit; and NU Considers a Line in Vermont

Northern Pass opponents have been waiting to learn to what extent the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) listened to the voluminous public comments regarding the need to analyze alternatives to the proposed overhead transmission line, such as burial along transportation corridors. The fear has been that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be completed without serious study of such alternatives.
Prompted by requests from the New Hampshire Congressional Delegation, the DOE released on May 1 a preliminary report outlining the alternatives that will be studied as part of the EIS for the proposed Northern Pass transmission line.
Now that the report is out, the rush is on to understand not only what it says but what it might mean for Northern Pass. The caveat, however, is that this is clearly a preliminary report. As the document itself notes:
This Alternatives Addendum document briefly discusses alternatives that will, as of this time, be included in the draft EIS. However, this ongoing review may generate new information that results in changes or additions to, or reorganization of, the information presented below. DOE will use the information gathered during this process to identify which of the alternatives are reasonable.
In other words, if any one listed alternative is determined to be "unreasonable" by the DOE, it may get short shrift. The report goes on to say:
The range of reasonable alternatives will be analyzed in detail in the draft EIS, including discussion of design specifics and an analysis of potential environmental impacts. DOE also will identify those alternatives that are not reasonable and, in the draft EIS, will briefly discuss the reasons those alternatives were eliminated from detailed study.

The Alternatives Being Analyzed
There are 24 alternatives summarized in the report, including the so-called "Proposed Action" (the largely overhead line that Hydro-Quebec and Northeast Utilities want to build) and the "No Action" alternative (what happens if no line at all is built).
Among the rest are 10 variations on burial of some or all of the line, which suggests that burial options are likely to be analyzed in some detail. Those variations include burying only 10 out of 187 miles to avoid overhead lines through the White Mountain National Forest, to "porpoising" above and below ground, to complete burial either along the proposed right of way or under roadways or rail corridors.
There are a few surprises, such as the possibility of locating the conversion station (the electricity would travel the greatest distance as direct current, or DC, but must be converted to alternating current, or AC, to be accepted into the New England grid) in Deerfield instead of Franklin as proposed by Northern Pass. This possibility has not been part of any significant public discussion to date.
One alternative would apparently consider a terminus other than Deerfield, and thus, as the report states, "Specific alternate locations for the project’s terminus substations were not suggested, but different locations could significantly expand the range of possible routes." Another alternative considers placing the transmission line in an above-ground "tube" or pipeline, while another considers using navigable waterways, such as the Merrimack River. It's unknown to what extent such alternatives will get close scrutiny.

What's Not Among the Alternatives
None of potential alternatives listed in the report contemplate an international border crossing other than the one requested by Hydro-Quebec and Northeast Utilities in Pittsburg, N.H. This is notable for several reasons, not the least of which is that absent eminent domain, all overhead and underground routes that start at that point are blocked by the Forest Society's ownership of the Washburn Family Forest in adjoining Clarksville, including land underneath Route 3. Northern Pass has yet to secure a legally permittable route, and the alternatives being studied by the DOE don't resolve that issue.
The sole Pittsburg starting point is also notable in that the shortest route for power to be delivered from Quebec to power-demand centers in southern New England--especially if buried along roadways such as I-91--would not begin there.
Also missing among the alternatives is any consideration of so-called HVDC Light technology, the kind of buried transmission cable to be used in similar projects in New York (Champlain-Hudson Express and Vermont (New England Clean Power Link).
Rather, it would appear that the DOE for the most part has chosen to study alternatives that start with the project developers' own assumptions--that the line would cross into the U.S. in Pittsburg, N.H., and proceed to Deerfield, N.H., using the limits of old-school transmission technology. This is somewhat less than some stakeholders had hoped for.  Gov. Maggie Hassan in her statement about the report, saw fit to note, "I continue to believe that, with any energy project, New Hampshire deserves the latest technologies in order to protect what we all love about our state... ."

Increased Interest in Vermont
Meanwhile, during a visit to New Hampshire, Vermont's Gov. Peter Shumlin offered to work with Gov. Hassan to look into using Interstate 91 as a potential route for a buried line.
"If anyone can get it done, it’s Governor Hassan, myself and others," he said. "We would love to find solutions to get our southern neighbors the juice they need without destroying our pristine forests."
Two other underground transmission proposals, both from Transmission Developers Inc. (TDI) are proposed for Vermont/New York. The Champlain-Hudson Express, an underground and underwater 330-mile 1,000MW project that would deliver power from Quebec to New York, is well ahead of Northern Pass in the permitting process. And in May, TDI applied for a Presidential Permit for its New England Clean Power Link, another underwater and underground transmission line that would deliver 1000MW of Hydro Quebec power to Ludlow, Vt., where it would connect to the New England grid. TDI projects a 2019 completion date and $1.2 billion price tag for that approximately 150-mile project.

Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that earlier this spring Northeast Utilities fielded their own proposals to connect to the regional grid in Vermont. NU denied that those proposals were meant as a hedge against the stymied Northern Pass project in New Hampshire, but would not say how much electricity would be carried nor what the source of power would be.

July 7, 2014

No Northern Pass Video 3: A Hiker's Perspective

 The unnecessary and unpopular Northern Pass electrical transmission line would cut across New Hampshire for 187 miles from north to south, crossing many hiking trails - including the Appalachian Trail - along the way. 1500 huge new towers with high-voltage lines would rise high above the trees, visible for miles around. 

We've partnered with the Conservation Media Group on a video series that helps shine the light on why the Northern Pass project should not go ahead as currently planned. Please watch the latest video, and - if you haven't already - join us in signing the petition urging opposition to the Northern Pass. New England's governors will meet in New Hampshire on July 15th; tell them before that meeting, "If Northern Pass does not agree to bury power lines, it should be stopped.” 

Over 4000 people have signed the petition to date. Please share this email and ask your friends and family to join you in taking action by adding their own signatures and sending the strongest possible message to the region's policymakers.