By Nancy West,
The state Site Evaluation Committee has added 31 additional days – with still more to come – for adjudicative hearings on the Northern Pass Transmission proposal from October through December bringing the total to 72.
In an order Tuesday, SEC Chairman Martin Honigberg said most of the additional hearings will start at 9 a.m. at 49 Donovan St. in Concord with six of them starting at 1 p.m. The order doesn’t say what time they will end each day.
There are still a dozen hearings scheduled in September on the proposed 192-mile high-voltage line to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity from Pittsburg to Deerfield. Honigberg said additional dates are in the process of being scheduled as well.
The quasi-judicial hearings began in April and were scheduled to end this month because the SEC was supposed to make its decision on the $1.6 billion proposal by Sept. 30. But the SEC voted last week to extend the deadline by five months, prompting criticism from Northern Pass and a lively discussion on Scott Spradling’s personal Facebook page.
Spradling, a former WMUR reporter, runs The Spradling Group and does public relations work for Eversource. In a Facebook exchange on Spradling’s personal Facebook page, he was called out by Concord real estate developer and GOP activist Steve Duprey as to whether Spradling disclosed his relationship with Eversource to his Facebook friends.
At the top of his personal Facebook page posting Sept. 1, Spradling wrote in response to a New Hampshire Union Leader article talking about the delayed SEC deadline: “27 months to complete a process that is mandated to take 12 months – to get approval to add a new power line in NH where 80% of the proposed route has existing power lines on a utility right of way – in a deal that will bring cheaper hydropower to our state’s residents and businesses.
“Heaven help us if we actually have a hard decision. This process should alarm anyone who seeks alternative power solutions in our state. It is unwieldy and way past deadline.”
A number of people posted in agreement like Sean O’Kane: “Disgraceful on the part of the Site Selection Committee.”
Duprey questioned Spradling on the benefits of the project with some lively back and forth before asking Spradling if he was still working for Eversource or expressing his own opinion. This exchange was posted:
Steve Duprey: “Scott- in fairness, is this your personal view or are you also paid as a consultant on this project? There is nothing wrong with that and you do a terrific job representing clients but I think it also important in the interests of transparency to your FB friends to let us know if you work for the project proponents.”
Scott Spradling responded: “I absolutely could not agree more and yes indeed I have worked with Eversource for a number of years as a community liaison to businesses. Apologies to anyone who was not clear about that fact. What I have heard from literally dozens of business leaders and from chamber leaders publicly and privately is that they are burdened by high electric rates. They are also concerned about precedent of a process that needs to be responsive to any and all concerns but is now are bogged down in revolving regulatory hearings that take longer than mandated.”
Duprey responded to questions from InDepthNH.org on Tuesday by email saying he was expressing his personal opinion as “a native of NH who cares.”
“I think Scott disclosed early on in the debate about Northern Pass from months ago that he worked for Eversource. I only inquired because I didn’t know if he still did so or was expressing his own views,” Duprey said. “I am old school and think you should always disclose if you have more than a personal interest in the outcome of a public office but in this new world of 24/7/365 social media I think that may be an exception to how most organizations and individuals treat that question.”
Spradling responded to InDepthNH.org saying: “I do some work for Eversource and have for years, but this was a post on my personal page, I don’t do social media for them, never have.”
When asked if it is ethical to raise the question on a personal FB page without disclosing his work for Eversource, Spradling responded: “Seriously? Many of my peers and colleagues and friends and my family all know I have done work for Eversource. And again, this is my personal page. Nothing unethical there.”
Northern Pass issued a statement after the deadline extension was announced: “Northern Pass is disappointed in today’s decision considering this review process was already extended by nine months, from what was originally a 12-month process under recently enacted NH law.”
The new deadline for an oral decision is Feb. 28, 2018, and the written decision must be released by March 31, 2018.
Northern Pass’s statement went on to say that Eversource is confident it can achieve a 2020 in-service date.
“Further, we are convinced that we have submitted the most mature project into the Massachusetts Clean Energy RFP and we continue to believe that we will be in a position to start construction in the second quarter of 2018,” the statement said.
Members of the subcommittee that will decide Northern Pass by a majority vote are Chairman Martin Honigberg, PUC, presiding officer; Commissioner Kathryn Bailey, PUC; Dir. Craig Wright, Department of Environmental Services; Christopher Way, Department of Business and Economic Affairs; William Oldenburg, Department of Transportation; Patricia Weathersby, public member; and Rachel Dandeneau, alternate public member.
Northern Pass’ website explains the hearings process as follows:
“The SEC holds adjudicative hearings to consider and weigh evidence. The
applicant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence
that a Certificate should be issued. Expert witnesses submit testimony under
oath and are subject to cross-examination. Persons seeking to intervene must
file a petition which demonstrates that the ‘petitioner’s rights, duties, privileges,
immunities or other substantial interest might be affected by the proceeding.’”
Also, according to Northern Pass’ website: After an extensive adjudicative proceeding, the SEC will issue a Certificate of Site and Facility (Certificate) “if it finds that an applicant has adequate financial, technical, and managerial capability, that a project will not interfere with the orderly development of the region, that the project will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety, and that the project will serve the public interest. RSA 162-H:16, IV. The SEC may also impose reasonable terms and conditions as part of a Certificate, establish procedures to monitor construction and operation, RSA 162-H: 16, VI and enforce the terms and conditions of a Certificate, RSA 162-H: 12.”