Soon after Northern Pass, a private shell corporation, announced their proposal to erect more than 1,100 towers across 180 miles of New Hampshire landscape in the fall of 2010, landowers began reporting that project representatives were suggesting that, if necessary, they would use eminent domain to build the private transmission line. They have refused to voluntarily take eminent domain off the table as way to get what they, a private corporation, want.
This is in spite of the fact that in 2006, New Hampshire residents voted overwhelmingly (85%) in favor of a constitutional amendment (Article 12-a) that prohibits the use of eminent domain for private development. So why would Northern Pass think they have a 'pass' on the New Hampshire constitution?
Northern Pass, LLC, is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. The Northern Pass project is a private 'participant-funded' transmission line proposal that would enable Hydro-Quebec to sell electricity to it's own subsidiary, Hydro-Quebec U.S. As such, it's clearly a private development project that has not met any standard of public need. But Northern Pass, LLC, continues to act as if it were a public utility with a public project, including reserving the right to use eminent domain.
That's why House Bill 648 is so important. The original intent of HB648 was to amend RSA 371:1, which outlines under what limited circumstances public utilities may petition the Public Utilities Commission to use the state's power of eminent domain, to make it clear that a private, participant-funded project such as Northern Pass may NOT petition the PUC for the right to use eminent domain.
The NH House of Representatives passed HB648 by a wide margin in May of 2011. In June, the Senate chose to send the bill for additional study. In December 2011, the Senate Judiciary Committee amended HB648 in a way that undermined the original intent of the bill, and sent it on for a full Senate vote in January, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan 25.
In response, Senate President Peter Bragdon and Senator Jeanie Forrester are proposing a different amendment to HB648 that achieves the protection and clarification sought by property rights advocates. The Bragdon/Forrester amendment can be read here.
This issue is critical for all New Hampshire homeowners and landowners, not just those in the North Country. In the Concord area, for example, Northern Pass wants homeowners to move their house because it's 'in the way' of their private transmission line.
The Forest Society supports private property rights. As property owners ourselves and as the holder of more than 700 conservation easements, we have a legal and ethical duty to protect conserved lands from the unconstitutional use of eminent domain. The Forest Society encourages all homeowners and landowners to contact their state senators (see a list here) and ask them to support private property rights by voting in favor of the Bragdon/Forrester amendment and passing HB648.