BERLIN – The announcement Tuesday by National Grid that it was looking to bring hydro-electric power from Canada via New Hampshire into southern New England was hailed by both supporters and critics of the similar Northern Pass transmission project, albeit for different, contradictory reasons.
National Grid officials said Tuesday they wanted to use their existing rights-of-way to bring the power from Canada into New Hampshire.
By comparison, Northern Pass would bring hydropower along a 192-mile long route into the state. Some 60 miles of the transmission lines, mostly within the White Mountain National Forest, would be buried underground.
Critics of Northern Pass, amongst the loudest of which has been the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests, have charged that the project is unnecessary and that its high towers would ruin viewscapes and bring down property values.
Supporters, among them Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, argue that Northern Pass is a statewide benefit, while in the North Country, it would pay to revitalize the Coos Loop, a local energy-distribution system.
Should the Coos Loop be brought back, Berlin, which is nowhere near the proposed Northern Pass route, could theoretically have 100 percent daily access to the regional power grid.
Berlin is home to a wind-turbine farm, several hydro-electric dams, including Smith Hydro which is owned by Eversource, the company behind Northern Pass, and to a bio-mass energy plant. Those cumulatively generate some 135 megawatts of power that can’t always find its way to markets, said Grenier, because of the Coos Loop’s limitations.
Given the continued retirement of power plants that use fossil fuels to make energy, “I think we need both projects,” said Grenier.
Although Northern Pass is already working through the permitting process and National Grid has yet to start, Grenier thinks the two of them might generate the same controversial issue – high towers.
Jack Savage, who is a spokesman for the Forest Society, thinks the National Grid project “has the potential to blow Northern Pass right out of the water.”
The proposal by National Grid, which has 110 miles of rights-of-way in New Hampshire, is some $600 million less expensive to build than Northern Pass, he pointed out, and it represents “a clear alternative to Northern Pass.”
Overall, Savage said there are three projects that want to do essentially the same thing: New England Clean Power Link, Northern Pass and now National Grid. At present, the one with the most uncertain future, Savage noted, is Northern Pass, whose energy-providing partner, Hydro-Quebec, recently said it would not help pay to build a transmission line in New Hampshire.
Savage thinks that only one project will ultimately prove to be viable.
“We (the Forest Society) don’t have a position on the National Grid project but we’ve long asked the question that if New England wants to avail itself of more hydro power from Quebec, why can’t it use the lines already running in northern New Hampshire.”
Savage dismissed the possibility of the Coos Loop upgrade falling to the wayside if Northern Pass falters.
“It’s a misnomer to say it’s Northern Pass or northing,” said Savage, who said the City of Franklin, too, would succeed without it; Franklin is the site of a proposed Northern Pass converter terminal.
That facility, according to Northern Pass, would be valued at more than $350 million and would annually produce property tax payments in the range of $3.2 million to $7 million.
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