SEC Member: Northern Pass Could Cost Taxpayers More For Public Construction Projects

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Garry Rayno photo

Members of the Site Evaluation Committee question Robert Varney, on the right, about the proposed Northern Pass Transmission Project's effect on the orderly development along its 192-mile route from Pittsburg to Deerfield. Members of the SEC pictured are: public member Patricia Weathersby, SEC legal counsel Michael Iacopino, SEC chair Martin Honigberg, SEC vice chair Kathryn Bailey, Department of Environmental Services representative Craig Wright, Department of Transportation representative William Oldenberg, and SEC administrator Pamela Monroe.


CONCORD — If the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project is built, it could mean state and local taxpayers might pay more for public construction projects along the 192-mile route.

A Site Evaluation Committee member raised the possibility in questioning former state SEC chair Robert Varney, currently President of Normandeau Associates of Bedford, a company hired by project developer Eversource to assess the line’s effect on the orderly development in communities along the route.

At Tuesday’s SEC’s adjudicative hearing on the $1.6 billion project to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to New England, Department of Transportation representative William Oldenberg presented a list of state bridges along the project’s route and noted a number are at least 70 years old and will need to be replaced.

The proposed transmission lines would go directly over the I-393 bridge over Portsmouth Street in Concord and noted the top two criteria for bridge design are safety and cost effectiveness.

The most cost-effective approach to replace, rehabilitate or widen the bridges would be to use cranes, Oldenberg said. “If you don’t, that will cost the state more money to replace the bridge,” he said, noting that is taxpayers’ money.

“The sheer size of the line,” he said, means “additional costs are going to be borne by others, passed on to citizens and not spent somewhere else in the state.”

Oldenberg said a school in Franconia is next to the buried section of the line, and if the school district wants to expand the school, that could increase the costs.

Varney said there is an ongoing dialogue between Eversource and the state Department of Transportation, and the applicant will work with local property owners and communities, but he noted the applicant has a right to use the state right-of-way and stay within existing corridors.

“The best we can do is to make sure there is an ongoing dialogue to foresee any future issues,” Varney said, “and factor that information into the final design and the decisions the DOT is making on the project.”

Oldenberg asked Varney if the applicant would agree to allow the DOT to assess future costs for construction projects affected by the transmission lines.

Varney said if there are additional costs in the right-of-way for the DOT, the applicant would be responsible for paying the costs.

SEC legal counsel Michael Iacopino asked if that was a reasonable condition to place on the project, and Varney said it is if it is consistent with law.

Local officials’ input

SEC vice chair Kathryn Bailey said the committee is required to consider the concerns of regional planning commissions and local boards in making its decision on the project.

“There is so much opposition from so many of these towns,” she said. “You should have tried to do more to minimize impacts.”

But Varney said the SEC has jurisdiction for the “regional project”’ not local boards with differing regulations from town to town.

She said the chair of the New Hampton Planning Board testified that the town’s site plan review regulations envision burying all transmission lines.

Varney said the committee is required to consider communities’ master plans and zoning ordinances not site plan review or other local regulations.

“The SEC clearly has jurisdiction over this project,” he said. “It’s up to you to make the decision while considering their views.”

But the SEC is standing in for towns and “if there is a specific reference to a project like this, why shouldn’t we consider it,” Bailey asked.

Varney said he did consider the comment in developing his report. “They know they do not have any jurisdiction over any regional transmission project,” Varney said about local boards.

Jobs lost and gained

Committee member Christopher Way said project supporters downplay the possibility of lost jobs and business closings due to construction of the project, calling it speculative. He maintained the projection of jobs created by the project is just as speculative.

“If a theater owner in Plymouth and a landscaper in Franconia, who know their businesses, and add it all up and see a problem,” Way said, “I would take that to the bank.”

Varney said it is difficult to assess impacts on local businesses due to a number of factors that contribute to the operation and profitability of any business.

He alluded to a business guarantee program to offset business losses and said a company has been hired to reach out to businesses along the route.

He said the impact from construction will be temporary and many things could be done to minimize that impact, he said.

But Way warned if Eversource does not find a way to communicate with business owners particularly along the buried section of the line between Bethlehem and Bridgewater, the impact on those businesses will go beyond temporary.

The 1,090 megawatt project was first proposed seven years ago. The SEC recently delayed making its final decision for five month pushing its deadline until the end of February, 2018.

The committee also added 31 more adjudicative hearings to be held at 49 Donovan St., in Concord from October through the end of the year.

Eversource had hoped to have all federal and state permits by the end of the year with construction to begin next year and the transmission line finished by the end of 2020.

Hearings continue Thursday with heritage and archeological experts testifying.

Garry Rayno can be reached at

As a public service, publishes the websites for Northern Pass and its opponents at the end of every story along with information about how the adjudicative process works to site new transmission projects and our previous hearing coverage. Sign up for our free Friday newsletter  for Northern Pass and other news that matters in NH.

How The Process Works Before The Site Evaluation Committee

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.”

According to Northern Pass’ website: After an extensive adjudicative proceeding, the SEC will issue a Certificate of Site and Facility “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.”

Eversource had hoped to have all federal and state permits by the end of the year with construction to begin next year and the transmission line finished by the end of 2020.

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.’s comprehensive coverage of the SEC hearings on Northern Pass.

April 13, Day 1: Eversource NH Chief Quinlan On The Hot Seat At Northern Pass Hearing
April 14, Day 2: Eversource Chief Questioned About ‘Clean’ Energy Claims And Northern Pass Costs
April 17: Day 3: Eversource: Hydro-Quebec Revenues Could Fall Short In Northern Pass’ First Year
April 18: Day 4: Northern Pass’ Potential Health Concerns Debated At Hearing
April 19: Day 5: Concerns Raised About Northern Pass Affecting Health of Sherburne Woods Residents in Deerfield
April 30: Is NH Getting ‘Hoodwinked’ on Health and Safety By Northern Pass?
May 1: Day 6: Testimony: 44 New Access Roads Needed To Build 192-Mile Northern Pass in NH
May 2: Day 7: Northern Pass Expert: 3 Months of Construction Likely In Downtown Plymouth
ay 3: Day 8: Project Official: Northern Pass Construction Limited To 7 am to 7 pm, Noise Assessed Daily
May 3: Eversource’s Chief Quinlan Listed as ‘Host’ For Sununu Fundraiser
May 4: Day 9: Grafton County Attorney Grills Northern Pass Experts On Land Buys
May 5: Day 9, story 2: Common Man’s Alex Ray: Northern Pass Disruption in Plymouth Would Be ‘Fatal’ To Business
May 8: Forest Society Calls Northern Pass Inflated Land Buys a ‘Shell Game’
May 25: Hydro-Quebec Explores Opportunities in New England, New York
May 31:, NHPR Talk Northern Pass With John Dankosky
May 31: Day 10: ‘Frac-Out’ Water Pollution Possible When Drilling To Bury Northern Pass
une 1: Day 11: Applicant: Northern Pass Would Mitigate Impact On Endangered State Butterfly
June 8: Day 12: Counsel for the Public: Northern Pass Financial Expert’s Perspective ‘Unnaturally Optimistic’
June 9: Day 13: Portions of Northern Pass Hearings Held In Closed Session, Again
June 12: Public Statement Hearings On Northern Pass Begin June 15
June 13: Day 14:  Analyst: Customer Using 300 kw Would Save $1.50 a Month With Northern Pass
June 14: Day 15: Regulator: Committee Could Consider Conditioning Approval for Northern Pass
une 15: Day 16: Speaking Out For and Against Northern Pass From Connecticut to Concord
une 16: Day 17: Forest Society Presses Environmental Benefits of Burying Northern Pass, Yale Responds To Critics About Land Leased To Northern Pass
une 21: Northern Pass Wants Controversial Yale-Bayroot Lease Kept Confidential
June 20: Day 18: Intervenors: Northern Pass Experts Failed To Identify All Impacted Wetlands
une 22: Day 19: Northern Pass Opponents Dominate SEC Hearing
une 23:  Day 20: Northern Pass Seeks 15 More Hearing Days For Total of 57
June 26: 
Day 21: SEC Members Quiz Northern Pass Experts On Wetland Protection
uly 18: Day 22: Northern Pass Expert: Project Wouldn’t Hurt Tourism
uly 19: Day 23: Site Evaluation Committee Members Criticize Northern Pass Expert on Tourism
uly 20: Day 24: Pessamit Innu, Lawmakers, Citizens, Businesses All Have Their Say on Northern Pass
July 21: Day 25: Deputy Solicitor: Northern Pass’ Tax Breaks Not So Great for Concord Property Owners
July 27: More Competition & Northern Pass Commits $10M To Help Low-Income Mass. Customers
July 31: Day 26: Public Counsel Grills Northern Pass Expert On Property Value Impact
Aug. 1: Day 27: Northern Pass’ Real Estate Expert Questioned About Data Accuracy
Aug 2: Day 28: Northern Pass Real Estate Expert Concedes Power Lines ‘Thin The Market’
Aug. 3: Day 29: Northern Pass Expert Asked How 1,284 ‘Significant’ Properties Pared Down to 6
Aug. 9: Day 30: No End In Sight For Hearings on Northern Pass’ Controversial Plan
Aug. 29: Day 31: Intervenors Grill Northern Pass’ Historic Preservation Expert
Aug. 30: Day 32: Passionate People From Concord to Clarksville Speak Against Northern Pass
Aug. 31: Day 33: Panel Postpones Northern Pass Decision For Five More Months
Aug. 31: Committee Blasts Eversource For Late Access To ‘Crucial’ Northern Pass Agreement
Sept. 5: 31 Northern Pass Hearings Added; Delay Prompts Lively Facebook Exchange
Sept. 11: Day 34: Counsel: Northern Pass Expert Failed To Survey Public About Scenery Impact
Sept. 12: Day 35: Northern Pass Expert: Views Could Be Worse If Owners Cut Trees Along Route
Sept. 13: Day 36: Chairman Limits Upcoming Cross-Examination By Northern Pass Intervenors
Sept. 15: Day 37: Visual Expert: Exactly Where 52 Miles Of Northern Pass Would Be Buried Still Unknown
Sept. 18: Day 38: Ex-SEC Chairman Varney Grilled As Northern Pass’ Land Use Expert
Sept. 19: Day 39: SEC Chair: New Evidence Indicates Potential Inaccuracies in Northern Pass’ Burial Plans
Sept. 21: Day 40: Study: Granite State Power Link Bests Northern Pass On CO2 Reductions
Sept. 22: Day 41: Grafton County’s Lara Saffo Asks: Should Landowners Trust Northern Pass?
Sept. 25: Day 42: Panel Chair Accuses Intervenor Of Trying To Delay Northern Pass Hearing

Union Reps Tout Northern Pass Jobs

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