By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — State utility regulators have again denied a request from Northern Pass to reconsider an earlier decision that would allow a confidential report to be made public.
In Friday’s decision, Site Evaluation Committee Chairman Martin Honigberg wrote Northern Pass failed to show a legal or factual error or misunderstanding occurred. And he said the company just rehashed its original arguments to keep project information confidential in seeking the rehearing.
Northern Pass sought confidential protection for information in a report titled, “An Evaluation of All UG Alternatives for the Northern Pass Transmission project.” The information included a pricing summary as well as detailed costs components for the underground sections of the proposed $1.6 billion, 192-mile transmission line that the Site Evaluation Committee denied earlier this year.
Project developer Eversource claimed releasing the information would put the project at a disadvantage in its bid for the Massachusetts Clean Energy project, which was initially awarded to Northern Pass but then Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect was selected after the SEC turned down Northern Pass.
The confidential information will continue to be withheld from public view for 30 days, the period Eversource has to decide whether to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, according to Pamela Monroe, SEC administrator.
The SEC denied the confidentiality motion in December 2017 saying Northern Pass failed to demonstrate why the company and its contractors’ privacy rights outweigh the public’s right to know or articulate what confidential business interests or competitively sensitive information is at stake.
After the SEC denied the motion Northern Pass asked for a rehearing saying the order is inconsistent with prior orders issued in the case and undervalues the competitive and proprietary interests at issue.
And Northern Pass said the SEC misapplied the three-step analysis required to determine where information should be exempt from public disclosure.
In opposing the rehearing, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said Northern Pass failed to meet the legal standard needed for a rehearing.
The society also argues the information Northern Pass seeks to keep confidential is not the same as the information the company says the committee determined should remain confidential in another competitive bid. The Forest Society also noted the need to protect the information is moot because Northern Pass was initially awarded the Mass. Clean Energy bid.
In the SEC order, Honigberg sided with the Forest Society’s argument, saying Northern Pass “failed to identify any error of fact, reasoning, or law warranting rehearing. The Applicant’s Motion for Rehearing simply rehashes arguments made in the Motion.”
Last month the SEC voted 7-0 to deny Northern Pass’s request to reconsider its decision denying the application and to reopen deliberations on the project first proposed in 2010.
The SEC turned down the project saying Eversource failed to meet its burden of proof that the project to bring 1,090 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec electricity to New England would not interfere with the orderly development of the region.
The committee said Eversource and its experts failed to provide enough credible evidence for the committee to make an informed decision on the project’s impact on property values, local businesses and tourism and on changes in land use.
The company is expected to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, but has yet to file one. The Supreme Court is expected to take about a year to make a decision.
Northern Pass officials had hoped to have the transmission line in service by the end of 2020.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com