Northern Pass’s proposed 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield has been described as “unprecedented in size and scope,” but some details backing up its claims of economic benefit are still being kept secret from interveners and the public.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Roth, who represents the public in the Site Evaluation Committee proceedings, has objected to parts of Northern Pass’s motion to continue keeping some economic data under wraps.
“The public deserves the opportunity to review the claimed project benefits and how they were determined and then weigh in with their perspectives,” Roth wrote in a motion filed last month with the evaluation committee.
On Tuesday, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests filed a motion saying it has been joined by the city of Concord, Grafton County Commissioners and a number of other interveners to clarify the schedule to obtain data from Northern Pass.
They want a second chance to request information beyond the May 20 deadline because of the redacted information submitted by Northern Pass.
“We’re coming up on the deadline to submit questions for discovery when we don’t have the benefit of all of the relevant information,” said Jack Savage, spokesman for the forest society.
There is no way the Site Evaluation Committee can hold mandatory adjudicatory proceedings and make its decision on whether the project benefits the public by Dec. 19 as required, Savage said. He believes the fall of 2017 would be a workable deadline.
Established by the Legislature, the Site Evaluation Committee is made up of state department heads and two public members. They review, approve, monitor and enforce compliance in the planning, siting, construction and operation of energy facilities.
The project would bring 1,090 megawatts of electricity from Hydro-Québec’s hydroelectric plants in Canada to New Hampshire and then to the rest of New England.
Roth focused on the partially redacted report about the purported economic benefits compiled by Julia Frayer of London Economics International (LEI) and her testimony. Roth has reviewed the unredacted Frayer report and discussed some of its claims with Northern Pass.
“Despite filing voluminous sets of testimony, the Frayer report is the one piece of evidence that comprehensively discusses the applicant’s claimed benefits of the project and the method in which those benefits were determined,” Roth wrote.
Roth disagreed with Northern Pass’s argument that the state’s right-to-know law provides for the confidential treatment of portions of the applicant’s filings.
“Counsel for the public argues that the public’s interest in disclosure of the information contained in the Frayer report is critically important for the public to assess the overall benefits of the project,” Roth said.
About 30 percent of the 121 pages of the Cost-Benefit and Local Economic Impact Analysis of the Proposed Northern Pass Project contain redactions. Some are totally blacked out.
Some data that was unredacted in the report included the following estimates: The project would create a total of nearly 2,676 total jobs in New Hampshire. It will increase New England states’ annual GDPs by $489 million (at the peak of construction in 2017) and about 44 percent of that additional economic growth ($214 million) will be situated in New Hampshire. During the commercial operations phase (2019-2029), New Hampshire will see an increase of 1,148 total jobs on average. New Hampshire’s annual GDP would increase by over $162 million on average over the forecast timeframe.
In a motion filed March 28, Northern Pass acknowledged that there is a public interest in the disclosure of materials to the SEC. “In these circumstances, however, the Applicants believe that the balancing of the Applicants’ privacy interests in non-disclosure of the redacted sections of the Report and Testimony outweigh a generalized interest in disclosure,” wrote Thomas Getz, one of Northern Pass’s attorneys.
Getz said Northern Pass has made appropriate efforts to limit the amount of redacted material and made unredacted copies available to Roth and the evaluation committee.
The remaining unredacted material reasonably informs the general public as to “the potential economic benefits of NPT in terms of the wholesale electricity market impacts and environmental effects, as well as the impact on the local economy in New Hampshire and other states in New England,” Getz wrote.
Its request for protective treatment is time-limited, he said. “As explained in the motion, the Applicants were specifically concerned about the Clean Energy RFP process being conducted by Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Bids have since been submitted in that process, but it is not yet complete,” Getz wrote.
Northern Pass believes that public disclosure of the redacted portions will be “appropriate within the next several months,” Getz wrote.
According to Roth, Northern Pass didn’t acknowledge the public’s interest in disclosure in its filings. Roth has also sought a six-month extension for the Site Evaluation Committee to make a decision on the project, to which Northern Pass objected.
“The Project is unprecedented in size and scope and will have a lasting physical impact on the state for generations,” Roth wrote.
The Site Evaluation Committee will hear pending motions on May 19 at the Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa in Whitefield at 11 a.m. followed by a public hearing at 6 p.m.
Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said he expects outstanding motions to be brought up at the May 19 hearing, but said couldn’t discuss any of the information that is still redacted.
“The statutory deadline is that it must be done within a year and we believe it is definitely doable,” Murray said.
Savage disagreed. “The SEC has never really dealt with something of this kind. It’s like trying to fit 20 pound of potatoes in a five-pound bag,” Savage said.
Besides having a large, diverse group of interveners, the 192 miles of transmission lines affect 31 communities, he said.
“Anybody trying to make case that this project has public benefit is saying, ‘Trust us. We can’t show you the report.’” Savage said.
Joining the forest society’s motion to clarify the deadline to seek information from Northern Pass are Concord, Bridgewater, Bristol, Easton, Franconia, Littleton, New Hampton, Northumberland, Sugar Hill, Whitefield, Ashland Water & Sewer Department, Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust, Appalachian Mountain Club, Conservation Law Foundation, NH Sierra Club, Grafton County Commissioners and others.
The New England Power Generator’s Association also asked for an extension of the May 20 deadline to make data requests.
“Given the extensive redaction in the Joint Applicants’ filing documents, in particular, its economic analysis, NEPGA is severely handicapped in formulating meaningful data requests without the opportunity to review an unredacted version of the report,” the association argued.