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By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — In its written order issued Friday afternoon, the Site Evaluation Committee reiterated what members told Northern Pass officials two months ago, the utility failed to prove the 192-mile, $1.6 billion transmission line would not disrupt the orderly development of the region.
In Friday’s order, the seven-member committee found that: “Given the nature of the master plans and local ordinances along the Project’s route, the Project would have a large and negative impact on land uses in many communities that make up the region affected by the project.”
Orderly development is one of four criteria the applicant must prove in order to receive a construction certificate from the SEC.
Because the committee cannot issue a certificate unless all four criteria are met, “we could not grant a Certificate even if the Subcommittee were to find in favor of the Applicant on the remaining three prongs. There is, therefore no need to go further.”
Northern Pass asked the SEC at the end of February to vacate its order, continue deliberations and proposed remedies to mitigate the committee’s oral findings. The SEC instead vacated its oral order and said it would not entertain a motion to reconsider until the written order is issued. The committee had until the end of March to issue the order.
Northern Pass said it will review the order and expects to file a motion to reconsider soon.
“As we’ve stated previously, the SEC’s decision-making process failed to comply with New Hampshire law and did not reflect the substantial evidence on the record,” according to the statement released by Northern Pass. “As a result, the most viable near-term solution to the region’s energy challenges, as well as $3 billion of NH job, tax, and other benefits, have been further delayed.”
The officials said they “will continue to review all options for moving this critical clean energy project forward.”
The company blamed the delay for losing its opportunity to deliver 1,090 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec electricity to Massachusetts as part of that state’s clean energy project.
Massachusetts energy officials selected Northern Pass for the 20-year contract but began negotiating with Central Maine Power on its proposed transmission line after the SEC denied Northern Pass’s application. Massachusetts energy officials announced earlier this week the Maine project would be the sole utility negotiating with electric distributors to delivery Hydro-Quebec power to Massachusetts.
Project opponents hailed the Massachusetts decision and the SEC’s written order saying the developers should drop the project some described as a scar on the state’s pristine landscape and others as an extension cord to Massachusetts with no discernible benefits for New Hampshire.
One of the opponents, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests’s spokesman Jack Savage called the project fundamentally flawed.
“Even a preliminary reading of the decision to deny Northern Pass reveals the extent to which Eversource failed to make their case under the law,” Savage said. “And to what extent the broad opposition—individuals, communities and organizations like ours—successfully argued what anyone with common sense already knew: that a transmission line of this scope and scale does not belong in New Hampshire.”
He said he hopes Eversource understands “No” means “No.”
Eversource has already asked the SEC to reverse its decision and should not be able to file a second motion to reconsider, he maintains.
“New Hampshire has won the day,” Savage said.
Hopkinton attorney Arthur Cunningham, who represents intervenors opposed to the project, said he just started analyzing the order in detail. “But it appears meticulously prepared and carefully supported by the record.”
When the SEC decided to vacate its oral denial and said the applicant would have to wait for a written decision, it said the company and any other intervenor would have 30 days to ask for reconsideration.
The SEC gave intervenors 10 days to respond to Eversource’s expected reconsideration motion, and said it would review the filings before scheduling a hearing, pushing any decision to at least the beginning of May.
In its written decision, the SEC said several of the expert witnesses were either not credible or assumed the best case scenario which for economic issues made the project appear more beneficial than other testimony indicated it would be.
“The impact on the economy and employment during operations of the project is largely dependent on savings from the wholesale electricity market,” the committee writes. “The Applicant has not demonstrated that savings from the Capacity Market will occur or if they do occur, that they will be as large as the Applicant’s expert says they would be.”
The committee also found Northern Pass’s expert on tourism was not credible.
“His report and his testimony provided us with no way to evaluate the Project’s tourism effects and no way to fashion conditions that might mitigate those effects,” the committee writes.
The members had similar criticism about the project’s land value expert who found the project would have little to no effect on property values. Any effect he said would occur on property encumbered by the utility right-of-way or within 100 feet of the project.
“We similarly did not find credible the Applicant’s expert opinion that there would be no discernible effect on property values,” according to the order. “The Applicant’s proposed compensation plan was, quite plainly, inadequate, but because the Applicant’s analysis of the effects was also inadequate it was impossible for us to even begin to consider what an appropriate compensation plan might require.”
The developers also failed to provide sufficient evidence “the Project would not overburden existing land uses within and surrounding the right-of-way and would not substantially change the impact of the right-of-way on surrounding properties and land use.”
By law the committee is to consider the opinions of municipal and regional planning commissions and governing bodies, the members wrote.
“Here, the views expressed by the intervening municipalities, and the comments expressed by local and regional planning agencies, the town meeting warrant articles, and the other municipal comments were relevant to the issues thoughtful and consistent,” according to the order. “The overwhelming majority of those views and comments were vehemently opposed to the project.”
Adjudicative hearings on the project first proposed in 2010 began in April and ended just before Christmas.
During the 70 adjudicative hearings, the committee heard from 154 witnesses and received and considered 2,176 exhibits.
The committee closed the record Dec. 22, 2017, began public deliberations Jan. 30 and voted to deny the application Feb. 1.
If the SEC denies the motion to reconsider the project, and Eversource appeals the decision to the state Supreme Court, the process would take at least a year.
Northern Pass officials have said they believe the company could meet the 2020 operational deadline even if they appeal the decision.
As of Dec. 31, 2017, Eversource had spent $277 million on Northern Pass.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org