MONTREAL – Hydro-Québec’s plan to export hydroelectricity through New Hampshire to boost its New England power sales has hit a solid wall of opposition in the Live-Free-or-Die state.
The proposed $1.1-billion U.S. power line, in partnership with Northeast Utilities Service Co. and Boston-based NSTAR Electric Co., has been rejected by citizens in more than 25 town hall meetings and hotly denounced in a letter-writing campaign to the governor, on social media sites and in packed public meetings.
“I don’t think I have seen such unified opposition right across the board … in 30 years,” said Kenneth Kimball director of research for the Appalachian Mountain Club.
“It has been very organic, coming from multiple directions and multiple sources,” said Kimball, who was among the hundreds of people who attended recent Department of Energy meetings in preparation for an environment impact study.
The venture, known as Northern Pass, has the American companies building, owning and operating the line to which Hydro-Québec has exclusive access for 40 years.
The utility, whose strategic plan calls for an increase in exports, could provide up to 1,200 megawatts of power to the New England grid, enough for about 960,000 typical U.S. homes.
Although the 180-mile transmission line would run mostly along existing rights-of-way, there is a gap of about 65 kilometres that would require the clearing of land and forest for transmission lines and towers.
Much of the protest revolves around the impact of those clearings in scenic regions, lost “viewsheds” for residents, fewer tourists and tourism dollars and lower property values.
The project would translate into a 16-km scar within the White Mountain National Forest, said Kimball, and “negatively impact” the celebrated Appalachian National Scene Trail.
Promises of construction jobs and relatively clean and cheap energy have fallen on deaf ears, according to all accounts.
The Northern Pass is seen as a venture that does no good for New Hampshire, providing profits to a Canadian company – Hydro-Québec – and its corporate partners, with benefits going to energy-hungry Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Questions have also been raised about the wisdom of importing foreign energy rather than keeping the money in the state and developing new sources of renewable energy.
Martin Murray, spokesperson for Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, an offshoot of Northeast Utilities, which has a 75-per cent stake in Northern Pass Transmission LLC, says public opinion in the state is solidly against the venture.
But it’s early days and that could change if the transmission route is tweaked to lessen impact and objections.
The challenge, Murray said, is to determine “how we can achieve a new and significant source of renewable energy at an economic price and do it with as little impact on our north country as possible.”
Some opposition stems from misunderstandings or misconceptions that can be addressed, he said.
For instance, there is widespread belief all of the towers in the new rights-of-way will be 135 feet high, he said. But, “in fact,” there will be towers of 80 to 90 feet, he said.
Other beliefs are harder to address, such as the notion joint venture partners should bury transmission lines that interfere with postcard-quality scenery.
The environmental impact of burying cable is questionable and the price tag unacceptably high, Murray said.
The opponents of Northern Pass were energized by a vote taken in the State House of Representatives this week.
In a 317-51 vote, Republicans and Democrats supported a bill that many see as aimed directly at the Northern Pass.
The bill blocks utilities from expropriating property to build power lines unless those lines are needed for system reliability.
Currently, Northern Pass is classified as a “merchant project” and, should the bill pass the Senate, would not have powers of expropriation.
Republican Representative Larry Rappaport was the prime sponsor of the “eminent domain” bill.
“If Northern Pass wants to go through then they should go for it (and negotiate terms with landowners) but I don’t think the government should be there to help them. They need to (operate) as independent businesses,” Rappaport said from his home in Colebrook, N.H.
Although he lives in one of the hot spots of protest, Rappaport said he first considered his bill before Northern Pass was launched and that he is not trying to stop the project. Yet hundreds of Northern Pass foes do see him as a champion of their cause.
“I have got at least 1,000 letters and emails from people, even from folks in Canada,” he said.
Next week, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch is to lead a trade mission to Quebec. Lynch is to meet with Premier Jean Charest and unnamed provincial officials and business groups in Quebec.
There was no mention of Northern Pass as being on the agenda.
Protests in Quebec ‘will come’ once route announced: farm owner:
Hélène Parizeau, a farm owner in southern Quebec, doesn’t speak English, but that hasn’t stopped her from travelling to New Hampshire to express her opposition to the Northern Pass project.
She takes a translator and explains that Hydro-Québec is considering planting towers and high-tension lines on her dairy farm for the Quebec leg of the new line.
“You don’t hear protests about Northern Pass in Quebec because (Hydro-Québec) hasn’t announced which route it will use. But they will come,” Parizeau said from her farm outside the community of East Hereford.
One option under consideration by the utility would put high tension lines within a few hundred metres of her home and too close to her herd of 180 animals, she said.
The line would follow a corridor already used by a gas pipeline, a pipeline that experienced an explosion a decade ago, she said. “Having high voltage lines near a gas line would make me feel my family was sitting on a bomb.”
A spokesperson for Hydro-Québec said the utility is still exploring route options and discussing them with interested parties.
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