August 29, 2014

"We're Worth It" : Sen. Ayotte Calls for Burial of Northern Pass Along Roads

Story by Jonathan Koziol, Union Leader
EASTON - Citing a precedent in New York and echoing a recommendation by the town's Conservation Commission, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on Thursday said the Northern Pass transmission project should be entirely buried beneath New Hampshire's roads.
Appearing at Easton Town Hall Thursday afternoon, just minutes after having hiked through the Gingerbread Road area to get a closer look at how Northern Pass would affect this town of 270 people, Ayotte said the beauty of the White Mountains should and could be preserved and that the Northern Pass could proceed if the transmission lines were buried "along an existing highway corridor."
That point, as well as a suggestion that Northern Pass consider a second international crossing other than that at Hall's Stream in Pittsburg, was made in an Aug. 18 letter from Ayotte and the rest of the state's Congressional delegation to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Northern Pass would bring hydroelectricity from Quebec into the U.S. along a 187-mile long line in New Hampshire. Northeast Utilities, the corporate parent of Public Service of New Hampshire and Northern Pass Transmission LLC, has an agreement with HydroQuebec for it to lease the Northern Pass transmission lines.
Proponents say the $1.4 billion project will create 1,200 construction jobs, put 1,200 megawatts of renewable electricity into the New England power grid, and, over its 40-year life, will generate some $1 billion in new municipal property tax revenues in New Hampshire.
Opponents of Northern Pass have criticized its intrusion into and despoilment of the North Country, both esthetically and economically.
A presidential permit is needed to allow Canadian power to come into the U.S. and the review process also involves the Department of Defense and the Secretary of State, both of which, Ayotte explained, typically defer to the DOE in energy-transmission cases.
Ned Cutler, who chairs Easton's Board of Selectmen, said that in 2012 the Town Meeting voted unanimously to say it opposed Northern Pass unless it was buried underground. He said yesterday that several property owners have already asked the selectmen how to get abatements because they expected a drop in the assessed values of their properties should Northern Pass go through town above ground.
In 2013, the Easton Conservation Commission took upon itself the task of finding an alternative route for Northern Pass through town and last November it came up with a recommendation that sounded a lot like Ayotte's on Thursday: bury Northern Pass along the Interstate 93 corridor between Bethlehem and Woodstock, thereby entirely avoiding Easton and the White Mountain National Forest in which it sits.
The bury-it-under-the-road approach gained traction earlier this month when the DOE, in reviewing the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express, which would bring power from Canada to the New York Metro Area, said burying 141 miles of the 336-miles of transmission lines under existing highways would be a good idea.
Both Cutler and Conservation Commission Chair Roy Stever said they'd like to see Ayotte push for burying Northern Pass and Ayotte said she would.
The technology exists to bury the transmission lines, Ayotte said, adding that the Easton Conservation Commission recognized that fact as did the DOE with the Champlain Hudson Power Express project.
What the conservation commission proposed just in Easton should be done down the entire length of Northern Pass, said Ayotte, and the DOE should require Northern Pass to study it, and then, ultimately, it should do it.
"We're worth it," said Ayotte, noting that the New York transmission project was also intended to run above ground, but didn't.
After a burst of polite applause died down, Ayotte continue that "This is obviously a very important issue to the Town of Easton and the state."
"This is about all of us," she said, "not just the North Country."

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.