Read InDepthNH.org’s Northern Pass coverage here.
By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
It was a real David and Goliath story played out over seven years. And while Northern Pass plans to appeal after regulators denied its $1.6 billion transmission project last week, lots of people along the proposed route from Pittsburg to Deerfield are celebrating.
The celebrants are, however, keeping an eye out for any surprises as Northern Pass plans to appeal and somehow hold onto the coveted Massachusetts clean energy contract it was set to begin negotiating before the unanimous vote against its application. Today, Northern Pass’ future shifts to Massachusetts where officials are scrambling to figure out how to proceed to meet their own energy goals as required by law.
Northern Pass supporters are also voicing their own unanimous opinion: disappointment.
North Country writer John Harrigan of Colebrook, whose syndicated column runs in a dozen Salmon Press newspapers, embraces the David and Goliath metaphor for improbable victory.
“And we didn’t even have anything in our slingshot,” Harrigan said. “Somebody blew a bugle and a bunch of us came running.”
Harrigan and scores of citizens and small business owners found new friends fighting to kill the plan to build a 192-mile high-voltage power line to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to the New England grid.
“I can’t tell you how many people who got caught up in this fight are so tickled we met, thrown together with other kindred souls,” Harrigan said.
Kris Pastoriza of Easton, the only person who was arrested for civil disobedience during the Northern Pass proceedings for refusing to move away from a test bore hole, said she made friends and enemies.
Pastoriza could often be seen knitting and sharing her research with other intervenors at the 70 adjudicative hearings in Concord.
“Friends, all the opposition people, fighters to the end. I know many of us heard from the start ‘it’s a done deal’ and all worked relentlessly despite that,” Pastoriza said.
There were enemies, too, she said. “All the people who were willing to forward corporate exploitation of the rest of us and our terrain, to enrich themselves,” Pastoriza said.
If Northern Pass dies, she will have a lot more time to devote to other things, Pastoriza said.
“I will not have to worry about the terrain here so much…But I know that we are one small victory against a long-term movement of consolidation of power in the hands of a very few, so I feel for the many others whose communities and terrain were exploited by corporate projects despite their best efforts,” Pastoriza said.
Eyes on Massachusetts
A week before being denied a New Hampshire permit, Northern Pass was named the sole bidder to negotiate a contract with the Bay State for its clean energy contract.
Now Massachusetts officials are trying to figure out how to proceed after selecting Northern Pass in part because it promised to be operational two years before any other project. A total of 46 projects bid into the Mass. RFP, including two others that also partnered with Hydro-Quebec.
“In the event that Massachusetts electric utility companies are not able to finalize a contract consistent with the project’s proposed terms, the companies in coordination with the (Mass.) Department of Energy Resources and overseen by the Independent Evaluator would be tasked with selecting another project to advance to contract negotiations in an effort to ensure a clean and affordable energy future and progress toward reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Peter Lorenz, Mass. Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Communications Director.
Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey wrote to Mass. Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson asking to make public any decisions about the future of Northern Pass.
And convene a bidders’ conference by Feb. 16 to explain to all the bidders how the process will proceed. Healey is concerned because the regions three largest utilities Eversource, National Grid and Unitil helped judge the bids and selected Eversource’s Northern Pass.
The (EDCs) electric distribution companies are supposed to meet with the DOER and independent evaluator by Friday, Feb. 9, to discuss the matter.
A group of New Hampshire lawmakers has asked GOP Gov. Chris Sununu to come out in favor of a competing project, National Grid’s Granite State Power Link. Sununu, who strongly supported Northern Pass, has yet to say publicly what he plans to do.
Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who represents the North Country, said, “I just told the Northern Pass opposition to keep one eye open when they go to bed at night.”
Kenney, who has been an outspoken critic of Northern Pass, doesn’t expect an appeal would succeed in seeking a rehearing or in front of the Supreme Court.
“Right now I think everybody is clearing the dust off. The next step is Sugar Hill for a big party over the weekend,” Kenney said.
Northern Pass response
Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass, said:
“Northern Pass has a tremendous amount of supporters, due to the significant benefits it will provide New Hampshire and the fact it is capable of being in place two years before any similar project,” Murray said.
He added: “We intend to seek reconsideration at the NH SEC. We have a strong argument to make and we are hopeful the committee will carefully consider it – resume deliberations – and ultimately grant the necessary permit.”
The Balsams resort redevelopment had obtained a $5 million loan from Northern Pass on the condition that it support the project, according to hearing testimony.
“The Balsams is disappointed by the SEC’s decision, which seemed to ignore the significant benefits Northern Pass is already bringing to New Hampshire as well as those it would bring in the future,” said Balsams spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne.
“In stark contrast to the SEC’s decisions to approve several mountaintop wind farms and the Burgess Biomass plant with conditions, there seems to have been no discussion of potential mitigation that Northern Pass could have considered,” he said.
The Berlin Daily Sun reported Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier’s disappointment:
“Total irresponsibility,” Grenier said, noting the SEC decision came after only two days of deliberations. “This sends a very chilling message to anyone working to bring economic development to the North Country,” he added.
Grenier told the Berlin Daily Sun that the benefits included a $7.5 million Coos County Job Creation Fund as well as a $200 million Forward N.H. fund that would give preference to North Country economic development efforts. Northern Pass also promised tax benefits and to spend an estimated $50 million to upgrade the Coos Loop transmission system to allow it to accept additional power generation, the newspaper reported.
Coming up roses
But for Northern Pass opponents like writer Harrigan, “everything’s coming up roses,” he said. “I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve heard from lawyer friends that the SEC’s decision is bullet -proof. We won this one,” Harrigan said.
Harrigan summed up his feelings in his latest column’s headline:
“For those who fought so hard, for so long,
one word seems almost enough: ‘Huzzah!’”