By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The ownership of land Eversource purchased for the ill-fated Northern Pass Transmission Project has been transferred to the previous owners of the property.
The utility which proposed the 192-mile transmission line from the Canadian border to Deerfield, paid about $40 million for the land over a decade ago when the project was first proposed.
The $1.6 billion project was intended to transport Hydro-Quebec hydro power to Massachusetts in order for that state to meet its emission reduction goals. No power would have been allocated for New Hampshire electric customers after a Public Utilities Commission ruling on the agreement between Eversource and Hydro-Quebec for 1,090 megawatts of electricity.
The previous owners of the approximately 5,300 acres Eversource purchased primarily in Coos County included a number of private individuals.
However, the bulk of the land was transferred back to R&B Rentals LLC (Bear Rock Adventures) and Dead Water LLC (managed by Wagner Forest Management).
Bear Rock Adventures has long supported outdoor recreation, as well as economic development and environmental stewardship in New Hampshire, and Wagner has a longstanding presence in the state, conducting sustainable forest management and partnering with the state on recreational and conservation initiatives, according to the Eversource press release.
“Regardless of the outcome of any individual project or proposal, we’re committed every day to supporting our communities and the state in efforts to spur economic development and promote environmental stewardship to help keep New Hampshire a special place to live, work and visit,” said Eversource President of Transmission and Offshore Wind Projects Bill Quinlan, who was president of the New Hampshire division of Eversource when Northern Pass was proposed and before state regulators. “We’re pleased that Bear Rock Adventures and Wagner Forest will be taking responsibility for the use of these parcels moving forward and are confident they will do so in a manner consistent with their longstanding support for the state’s strong interest in recreation and environmental stewardship.”
The ownership of the 92 properties spanning 15 towns and four counties, varying in size from seven to 330 acres, were transferred without any monetary payments to Eversource as the cost was written down when the state’s largest utility announced it would not go forward with the project, according to William Hinkle, media relations manager for Eversource.
The company announced it would not go forward with the project after the state Supreme Court upheld the Site Evaluation Committee’s unanimous decision to deny the application.
Hinkle also said Eversource did not reserve any future rights on the properties as part of the agreement to transfer ownership back to the previous owners.
The project was first proposed in 2010 and the adjudicative hearings on the transmission line lasted from April 2017 to Feb. 1, 2018 when the SEC denied it saying it would disrupt the orderly development of the region, which would negate one of the requirements for approval.
Eversource spent $314 million on the project before pulling the plug about a week after the state Supreme Court’s ruling. The company said at the time it wrote off $200 million after taxes.
After the ruling, Hydro-Quebec turned to a similar project proposed in Maine.
That project has had fits and starts and was halted after a statewide referendum opposed the project, but the developers sued successfully claiming it retroactively changed the state approval process.
The project is expected to begin again after the organized opposition to the transmission line said they would not challenge the court’s decision.
However, the Quebec government, which owns Hydro-Quebec, has told the company it needs to retain more power for use in the province in order to meet its emission goals, particularly in light of the spiking price of electricity in the past year largely due to the war between Russia and the Ukraine.
Hydro-Quebec has said it will honor the existing contracts it has with Massachusetts and New York City.
Eversource said Monday the transfer represents a final step in the closeout of the Northern Pass project.
“This transfer of property represents the ongoing commitment that Eversource has continuously prioritized being a good steward to the North Country,” said Corrine Rober, President of Bear Rock Adventures. “This opportunity represents meaningful economic development as Bear Rock continues to grow and expand access to recreational and tourism-based activities in the community.”
Northern Pass drew widespread opposition from people and businesses along the proposed route of the transmission line, which included two buried sections, one in the Clarksville and Stewartstown and another 52-mile section through the White Mountain National Forest and along roads from Bethlehem to Bridgewater.
Many opponents of the project suggested it all be buried along the I-93 corridor, but Eversource said that would be too expensive.
Almost all the communities impacted by the transmission line opposed it with the exception of Franklin which stood to benefit from a facility to transform the direct current to alternating current.
Because much of the project would be direct current, the lines needed greater separation from those with alternating current resulting in either new transmission lines or high poles to meet the separation requirement and drawing criticism for its visual impact in many communities.
In denying the application the SEC 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, tourism and changes in land use.
The line would have connected to a substation in Deerfield that would have connected the power to the New England grid.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.