A bill that would slow down a project to carry hydroelectric power from Canada to New England would have unintended consequences for the state, a representative of New Hampshire’s largest utility testified yesterday.
Donna Gamache of Public Service of New Hampshire said the bill, which she described as a “knee-jerk reaction” to the project, could stop many necessary electric transmission upgrades. She testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that PSNH also is concerned about long-term impacts the bill could have on the ability to provide cost-effective electricity.
Martin Murray, a PSNH spokesman, said the bill would threaten the chances of new renewable energy sources to connect to the grid. Projects such as a North Country wind project “or other projects that could bring important environmental or economic benefits to the state” could be jeopardized, Murray said.
The House-passed bill would prevent public utilities from taking private land to build a plant or transmission facility. It would allow construction if the transmission facility is needed for “system reliability” of the electric grid, a term that has no definition in the bill.
But landowners who fear that they could lose their property to the project, called the Northern Pass, say the bill would strengthen their property rights.
“When someone has the ability to take our land . . . which is my family asset, I have a real problem with that,” said Tom Thomson, an Orford tree farmer whose family owns 2,500 acres.
The bill was introduced in opposition to the Northern Pass, a project that would build power towers to carry transmission lines along a 180-mile route from northern to southern New Hampshire and provide electricity for the region. It would include 40 miles of new construction in the northern part of the state, where the opposition is based. Many opponents from the area, wearing their trademark hunter orange, crowded the 400-seat capacity Representatives Hall at the State House for the hearing.
Project opponents say the bill would stop the Northern Pass from using eminent domain because the energy from the project isn’t needed in the state. Supporters argue the bill would stop construction of other projects, and that eminent domain itself is rarely used.
“Legislation targeting a specific project sends a ‘keep out’ message to all who may wish to do business in the Granite State,” Joseph Casey, president of the New Hampshire Building and Construction Trades Council, wrote yesterday in a letter to Gov. John Lynch opposing the bill.
The group represents about 5,000 families. “Projects like the Northern Pass represent the future of construction employment – clean, renewable energy initiatives that create jobs, provide tax windfalls, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels – all while providing much-needed construction jobs to our workers,” Casey wrote.
The project is proposed by PSNH’s parent company, Northeast Utilities, as well as NSTAR and Hydro-Quebec. The companies say it would create about 1,200 jobs a year during its three-year construction phase.
Gamache said PSNH is “making great strides” with landowners over developing agreements on proposed property use for the power project.
She noted that the utility has “gone back to the drawing board,” dropping some proposed routes and exploring more alternatives.
But not all landowners are on board. Robert Koerner of Pelham wrote to the committee that he was approached by two Northern Pass representatives in February. He was asked if he would agree to let them on his property to conduct surveys, evaluations and soil testing.
“They wanted to work with all landowners but if the landowners didn’t cooperate they would exercise their right of eminent domain. The threat of eminent domain has to be removed from this process,” he wrote.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding