The Permitting Process
Before the proposed Northern Pass power line can be built, several government agencies will need to make a series of decisions. Here is a summary of these decisions and how
you can participate in the process. This public review process may take up to three years and would need favorable decisions for the project before Northern Pass LLC could begin construction.
FEDERAL DECISIONSPresidential Permit
The US Department of Energy (DOE) must grant a “Presidential Permit” for any electric transmission project that crosses an international boundary to assure that the proposed project serves the public interest. The Forest Society has filed as an “intervenor” to object to the project as it is proposed. (A copy of our filing can be viewed at www.forestsociety.org/np.)
Before issuing a Presidential Permit, the DOE must complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). As part of the EIS preparation process, the DOE hosted seven public scoping meetings this past March to solicit public input on the proposed Northern Pass project. More than 2,000 people attended these hearings, and hundreds voiced their concerns about the proposed project’s anticipated impacts. Less than 20 people expressed support for Northern Pass. The DOE will consider this input carefully as it determines what elements—alternatives, as well as environmental, economic, and social impacts, etc.—to include as part of the EIS. It is unclear to what extent the decision-making about the scope of the EIS will be transparent. Once the scope is determined, the impacts will be studied, and a draft EIS will be released (no earlier than spring of 2012). That draft will be subject to public comment before a decision on the Presidential Permit is made.
White Mountain National Forest Special Use Permit
Northern Pass proposes to construct transmission lines through 10 miles of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). To do so, it Northern Pass must first obtain a “Special Use Permit” from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). A Special Use Permit assures that any proposed use of the WMNF is in the public interest and consistent with the uses for which the national forest was created.
The USDA will use the DOE’s Environmental Impact Statement as the basis of its decision to grant or withhold a Special Use Permit.
Once the draft EIS has been prepared, the State of New Hampshire will become involved in the permitting process.
Site Evaluation Committee
The State of New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) has the final say on whether to issue a certificate of approval for the project as proposed, to issue a certificate of approval with conditions, or to deny the certificate. The SEC is made up of designated state agency leaders who review all energy project siting proposals, like Northern Pass. The SEC will review the draft EIS and consider the proposed project’s impact upon the welfare of the state’s population, economic growth, and environment, as well as the need for new energy facilities in New Hampshire.
Northern Pass plans to apply for its SEC certificate as soon as the US DOE publishes a draft EIS. Within 30 days of the application, the SEC will hold at least one public hearing in each county in which the proposed project would be located (in this case, Coos, Grafton, Merrimack, and Rockingham). The SEC must issue or deny the Certificate of Site and Facility permit within nine months of accepting the application.
Public Utilities Commission
The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) reviews all long-term purchase power contracts between regulated New Hampshire utilities (like PSNH) and electricity generators (like Northern Pass). When Northern Pass seeks to contract with PSNH to provide any electricity to New Hampshire consumers, the PUC will hold public hearings as part of its review process. The PUC will review the contract application and approve or deny the request.
Northern Pass must also receive PUC approval before it can use eminent domain to acquire the land rights it will need to create transmission rights-of-way. Northern Pass has stated its intent to use eminent domain if it cannot obtain the land it seeks after negotiating with landowners.
Governor Lynch and the State Legislature
The New Hampshire legislature may be asked to address issues surrounding Northern Pass’s threatened use of eminent domain, as well as other issues that may influence how, whether, or where the proposed project advances. (Details about this legislation are available on the Forest Society’s website at www.forestsociety.org/np.) Anyone who is interested in the outcome of the Northern Pass proposal can and should make their opinions about the project known to Governor Lynch, their state representatives, state senator, and other elected officials. For contact information, visit www.gencourt.state.nh.us. A personal letter to the governor should be directed to: The Honorable John Lynch, Office of the Governor, State House, Concord, NH 03301.
For more information about Northern Pass, visit www.forestsociety.org/np.