Tapping into a “deep feeling” in northern New Hampshire that the Northern Pass project would mar the region’s beauty and undermine its tourism industry, Newt Gingrich said he would withhold his support unless the power lines go underground.
“The application that I would be willing to consider as president would have to require burials, and it would have to require that the Northern Pass project be an underground project,” Gingrich said yesterday morning to a group of reporters after a town hall meeting at the Plymouth Regional Senior Center.
Northern Pass, which is a joint project between Public Service of New Hampshire, Hydro-Quebec and Northeast Utilities, would bring 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectricity from the Canadian border through a converter station in Franklin and on to Deerfield. From there, it would continue to the regional power grid for distribution all over New England.
The project would include 140 miles of high-voltage, direct-current power lines and an additional 40 miles of alternate current lines.
“The question is whether or not the people of northern New Hampshire should bear the cost of getting the electricity to other people,” Gingrich said.
The president would have the authority to intervene in the local issue because the hydro-electric power would need to cross the border from Canada into the United States.
Opponents of the project have often argued that the power lines should be buried to avoid disrupting view lines, but PSNH and others maintain that such a move would result in a tenfold increase in the cost of the $1.2 billion project .
Gingrich dismissed those concerns yesterday, citing Northeast Energy Link, a wind turbine project in Maine that is unaffiliated with Northern Pass.
“Apparently it’s not prohibitively expensive in Maine, and the projects like it all around the world,” Gingrich said.
But NEL, a proposed 230-mile transmission line delivering energy from northern and eastern Maine and eastern Canada into southern New England, is only “considering” underground transmission lines, according to its website.
When asked to address the discrepancy, R.C. Hammond, a Gingrich spokesman, said it would not be feasible to get the necessary information before the Monitor’s deadline.
“Plus, our source on this I doubt will talk to you, considering the newspaper he owns is different from what you own,” Hammond told a Monitor reporter.
In response to yesterday’s criticisms, Northern Pass issued a statement saying it would “continue to work collaboratively with many individuals, communities and agencies to complete a project that will deliver jobs, lower energy costs, and clean renewable energy that will significantly reduce emissions of carbon.”
“We appreciate Speaker Gingrich’s suggestion that the project be placed underground in some areas. While our studies show that may not be sensible using traditional underground technology, we are continuing our research.”
Gingrich first learned of the project this summer, Hammond said.
“He’s been critical of the project,” Hammond said. “Him being critical isn’t new, him putting new ideas out there to make it work is.”
Gingrich held four town hall meetings yesterday but mentioned his opposition to the project during only two of them, one at the Littleton Opera House and the other at the Great North Woods Welcome Center in Lancaster.
Because New Hampshire is littered with “Live Free or Fry” signs, but the 31 communities on the proposed route would receive $25 million in additional annual property tax revenue if approved, the proposed project is divisive.
“There are two candidates I will not vote for under any circumstances,” said Robert Reese, 56, of Thornton. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, Reese said.
Reese won’t vote for Perry because he was endorsed by Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield, who supports the project. Northern Pass says it would pay Franklin an estimated $4.2 million in property taxes annually. And Romney’s out, Reese said, because one of his supporters and fundraisers is Greg Butler, a senior vice president and general counsel for Northern Pass.
Locals worry the direct current power lines could cause a variety of illnesses and that private property will be seized by eminent domain, claims Northern Pass denies in detail on its website.
Voters at yesterday’s town halls consistently said they appreciated Gingrich’s support. In some cases, they said it could persuade them to vote for him.
“It’s hard to put the effort in to learn what was important to us,” said Kris von Dohrmann, a 50-year-old farmer in Jefferson who opposes Northern Pass.
“We get nothing out of the loss of scenery,” she said.
Not all the town hall voters were concerned about Northern Pass – take Danielle Winters, 29, of Hales Location. She moved to New Hampshire about 3½ years ago and has been struggling to find a job. Winters, a Republican, described her growing frustration at long-term unemployment during the town hall meeting in Littleton. In an interview afterward, Winters, who said she intends to vote for Gingrich, said Northern Pass is not the most important issue to her.
“I’m focused on getting a job,” she said, holding a Gingrich sign.
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