By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH
CONCORD — Another milestone in the Northern Pass transmission project passed Friday when 19 intervenors filed legal briefs arguing their positions on the proposed 192-mile power line from Pittsburg to Deerfield.
The vast majority — 16 — asked the Site Selection Committee to reject the project for several reasons all related to the applicant failing to meet statutory requirements for approval.
The applicant, Eversource, has until Friday, Jan. 19 to file its response to the intervenors.
In its brief, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said the project would have an unreasonable adverse impact on the state’s special landscape, especially on conservation land.
“Applicant proposes to site this proposed project in a way which would pervasively and permanently scar the northern two-thirds of our state with towers and transmission lines that cut through unique forest ecosystems and rise well above the tree canopy,” wrote the organization’s attorney Amy Manzelli, “making industrial infrastructure starkly visible within too many of New Hampshire’s rural landscapes from Pittsburg to Londonderry, only to provide purported benefits that would primarily be enjoyed— not in New Hampshire—but in other states and Canada.”
The organization said other less expensive and less harmful alternatives exist.
One intervenor group supported the project and urged the SEC to grant Northern Pass the needed certificate to begin construction and operation, saying the project meets all the statutory hurdles.
The Business Intervenors Group representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Cate Street Capital, Inc., The Coos County Business and Employers Group, Dixville Capital LLC, and Balsams Holdings LLC, said the project would be a public benefit to the state.
According to their attorney Alan Raff, Northern Pass would serve the public’s interest, reduce pollution, provide additional tax payments for communities, create jobs and other economic benefits for New Hampshire, and lower electric costs.
The City of Berlin filed a brief in support contingent on several conditions.
The city wants about 30 miles of the Coos transmission loop upgraded to accommodate additional renewable energy projects, the bylaws for the $200 million Forward NH Fund and $7.5 million North Country Job Creation Fund be changed to give greater emphasis to North Country communities, especially Berlin, and to include a provision that project approval does not endorse Northern Pass’s preferred tax assessment method of “net book value,” which the city says undervalues the project.
The Counsel for the Public, which does not take a position on the project, noted in its 200-plus-page brief, the applicant, Eversource, may not have met its obligations under the law to receive a permit.
“While Counsel for the Public does not take an express position on the Subcommittee’s ultimate decision in this case, he does note the significant impediments to a finding that the Project meets the statutory requirements for approval of a certificate of site and facility, including the incompleteness of key aspects of the records discussed above and the uncertainty inherent in projections of future benefits of the Project,” writes Counsel for the Public Chris Aslin.
“In addition, Counsel for the Public notes the overwhelming opposition to the Project expressed by intervenors, municipal governing bodies, legislators, and the public. This public opposition must be carefully weighed by the Subcommittee, particularly as it assesses the ultimate requirement that ‘issuance of a certificate will serve the public interest.’”
The brief explores the SEC’s legal obligations and what is required to grant a permit focusing on deficiencies including:
A survey approved by New Hampshire Department of Transportation establishing the location of the public right-of-way along the buried route;
A design that can be constructed within the established and approved ROWs;
An assessment of the impacts to historic sites, aesthetics, the environment, and orderly development along the underground sections;
Determining the project’s impact on historic sites under the federal Section 106 process;
Financial assurance for the decommissioning plan;
And resolution of the Cape Horn State Forest easement.
“Without this information, the Subcommittee would be unable to make all of the findings required to issue a certificate,” Aslin writes.
He also says the committee has the authority to attach conditions to its permit and has a long list of suggestions including those governing best management practices for construction, a defined avoidance, minimization and mitigation plan to protect wildlife and plants, restoration requirements, public hearings before construction begins on the underground routes, establish an independent claims process, and others similar to Berlin’s request about the Coos Loop, and the Forward NH Fund and the North Country Jobs Creation Fund.
The brief filed by the New England Power Generators Association says the project would not provide the promised economic benefits.
“The project’s fatally flawed and incomplete analysis cannot be relied upon to show the price benefits the project sponsors have long trumpeted,” the organization writes in its brief. “These findings raise the question, if New Hampshire will not receive the promised lower electricity prices, is it worth the cost?”
The brief also claims Northern Pass would result in the retirement of power plants in Maine and New Hampshire, throwing hundreds out of work and impacting state and local revenue.
The group says the electric market has changed significantly since the project was first proposed eight years ago and the project is not likely to reduce the cost of electricity for consumers as promised.
A group of environmental groups — the Appalachian Mountain Club, Conservation Law Foundation and Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust — filed a brief claiming Northern Pass has failed to meet the “burden of proof” test and if approved would result in “a profound and long-lasting, unreasonable adverse affect on the aesthetics and environment of the state.”
The nearly 100-page brief outlines areas the group claims are deficient including mathematical errors, biased analyses, and disregard for the rules governing the permit application process.
Other briefs cite specific areas intervenors believe Northern Pass has not met its requirements under the SEC statute and rules.
The Grafton County Commissioners echo an earlier claim the lack of final construction plans through its boundaries make it impossible to approve.
They had asked the project be restarted, a motion denied by SEC chair Martin Honigberg, because the plan has changed considerably since required public hearings were held two years ago.
The commissioners, Concord and other municipal groups said Northern Pass should follow local ordinances and regulations and not delegate the responsibility to state agencies including the New Hampshire Department of Transportation which has said it lacks the authority and resources to oversee construction over and under local roads as Northern Pass proposed.
And they argued the project is inconsistent with host communities’ master plans and zoning ordinances.
Others such as the non-abutting property owners along the underground route from Bethlehem to Bridgewater argue the project did not attempt to comply with all Department of Transportation rules and as a result has lost the trust of many communities and their citizens.
The SEC begins 20 days of deliberation on Jan. 30, and must reach a final decision by the end of February and issue a written ruling by the end of March.
Northern Pass officials hope to begin construction on the $1.6 billion project to bring 1,090 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec electricity from Canada to the New England grid this summer and complete the project by 2020.
The project recently received final approval for its Presidential permit to bury the line through the White Mountain National Forest.
Garry Rayno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org