Public Counsel To Northern Pass: Who’s Paying For This Project?

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Photo from Northern Pass' website

Click here for Counsel for the Public’s letter

The Counsel for the Public wants answers as to why Hydro-Quebec now says it won’t pay for the controversial 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield when Northern Pass’ application said that Hydro-Quebec would pay.

Representing the public, Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter C.L. Roth said Northern Pass and its partner Eversource Energy stated in its application and in prefiled testimony that Hydro-Quebec will pay for the line and pay to decommission it.

“Please explain Hydro-Quebec’s statement that it ‘will not pay for the line in the U.S.,’” Roth wrote in a letter dated March 20 to Marvin Bellis, senior counsel for Eversource Energy.

Eversource Energy is Northern Pass’ partner in the application pending before the state Site Evaluation Committee to build a transmission line to carry 1,090 megawatts of hydropower from Canada through New Hampshire to the New England grid.

The legal process is heating up after months of technical sessions in which Northern Pass and intervenors swapped additional information in a process that compares to the discovery phase in a trial.

The trial-like adjudicative proceedings begin next month and are expected to run about 40 days before a subcommittee of the Site Evaluation Committee makes its decision to approve or deny Northern Pass’ application. The state decision must be made by Sept. 31 and federal approval is also required.

In the meantime, Gov. Chris Sununu traveled to Montreal on Monday on a business promotional tour where he restated his commitment to Northern Pass.

And opponents are planning a rally to circle the State House on April 23 in opposition to the project. Both sides have taken to social media to get their message out.

Northern Pass touts the state’s need for clean, reliable energy on Facebook while opponents use Facebook to say the project will hinder tourism and damage property values.

Contradiction?

“The recent public statements of HQ seem to contradict the testimony presented by the Applicants in this docket,” Roth wrote.

Roth also said: “I am concerned that the means for payment and assurance of profitability sought by HQ may have effects on the quantification of benefits of the project to the people of New Hampshire.”

Attempts to reach Attorney Bellis were unsuccessful. Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Roth said Northern Pass should discuss the portions of the Transmission Services Agreement that require Hydro-Quebec to pay for all costs associated with the project, regardless of whether the project is ever constructed or becomes operational or proves to be unprofitable to Hydro-Quebec.

“On numerous occasions, in the Application and accompanying testimony, the Applicants have expressly stated that HQ or one of its subsidiaries would pay for the entire costs of the line,” Roth wrote.

What he said concerned him most was Hydro-Quebec’s statement about not paying for the line, but Roth also addressed recent press reports about whether Hydro-Quebec would pay to bury a portion of the lines.

“Even if HQ pays for some of the costs of the project, will HQ pay for the costs associated with undergrounding the Project?” Roth asked.

He said he understood that Hydro-Quebec’s remarks about undergrounding in New Hampshire were sparked by efforts in Canada to require it to bury portions of the project there.

Roth also sought answers as to how Hydro-Quebec will recover the costs of transmission service for use of the project if Hydro-Quebec and Northern Pass aren’t successful in the Massachusetts RFP for clean energy.

“In the HQ press release, it states that it intends to ‘submit this project to the request for proposals the state of Massachusetts will be issuing soon.’

“The implication from this statement is that the revenue from any contracts associated with the Mass. RFP, in combination with other revenues such as from the capacity market, will be used to recover transmission service costs that HQ will be paying for NPT. In Canadian press reports, HQ was quoted as saying it would in fact abandon the Project if the Massachusetts bid was not successful.”

Hydro-Quebec issued a news release on March 9 saying it won’t abandon the project, that a Canadian journalist had written an erroneous report to that effect.

“Hydro-Québec has absolutely no intention to abandon the project,” the news release stated.

It went on to state: “Hydro-Québec will not pay for the line in the U.S. Hydro-Québec will make sure this project is profitable for Quebecers.”

Roth’s letter also sought answers regarding the Massachusetts RFP.

“Please explain whether NPT will still seek to build and commission the Project if HQ and NPT are not successful in the Mass. RFP,” Roth wrote.

Roth also asked whether Northern Pass and Eversource have any responsibility to pay costs associated with the development of the project if it never begins operation. Roth asked that Bellis respond by March 27.

“NPT’s responses to these questions are critical to my understanding of Hydro-Quebec’s position in regard to the Project, paying for the costs associated with the development and construction of the project and whether New Hampshire customers will be required to pay any of those costs, all to the end of understanding the benefits and costs of the project to the people of New Hampshire,” Roth concluded.

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