FREEMAN: Against the Northern Pass line
APR 26, 2017
A proposed hydroelectric transmission line called the Northern Pass Transmission project endangers New England ecosystems and threatens to destroy natural resources the Pessamit Innu First Nation depends on. The Northern Pass Transmission line would transmit energy along a 192-mile-long route from hydroelectric power plants owned by Hydro-Quebec, a Canadian government-run energy company, to Deerfield, New Hampshire, where the line would connect to the New England grid.
Yale University has the fiscal power and the moral obligation to halt the project. The proposed line runs through a sector of land in eastern Coos County, New Hampshire, leased by a company called Bayroot LLC. Interestingly, Yale holds 98.8 percent of the investment shares in Bayroot. And the 24-mile stretch of land owned by Bayroot (read: Yale) is necessary for the construction of the transmission line. If Yale hopes to represent ethical environmental and social justice practices, it must take a stand against this project and instruct Bayroot not to allow the lease for the Northern Pass to be renewed.
Eversource Energy, the company running the Northern Pass Transmission project, asserts that the line would transmit 1,090 megawatts of clean energy to the Northeast, thereby lowering energy costs regionwide. But this masks the potentially devastating environmental and cultural impacts of the Northern Pass Transmission energy line.
The supposedly clean hydroelectric energy the line will provide is, in reality, no better an energy alternative than fossil fuel plants. Large-scale hydropower projects like this often result in greenhouse gas emissions comparable to those of gas-fired power plants. Furthermore, to build the power line, Eversource needs to construct 1,195 new transmission towers and relocate 634 additional towers, clearing swaths of forest along the length of the power line. This would seriously fragment natural forest ecosystems in northern New Hampshire.
Additionally, the construction of hydroelectric plants necessitates the creation of massive reservoirs that flood terrestrial ecosystems. By diverting water, these reservoirs destroy wetlands and shallow-water habitats, release toxins from sediments into aquatic food systems and restrict the movement of fish. If Yale fails to block this project, Hydro-Quebec will profit immensely, rewarding them for their irresponsible and destructive land use practices. The salmon populations in the Betsiamites River that the Pessamit Innu depend on as a critical source of food and income will likely be decimated beyond recovery as water levels fluctuate drastically due to the increased demand that would come from the Northern Pass.
Hydro-Quebec’s past hydroelectric projects have demonstrated a disregard for First Nation communities in the province. Since the early 1950s, Hydro-Quebec has carelessly built complexes have caused material harm to the territories of Innu, Cree and Inuit peoples Indigenous to the region.
On March 31, 2017, three leaders from the Pessamit Innu community, along with Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Ghislan Picard, traveled to Yale University to speak out against the power line. These representatives explained how Hydro-Quebec’s projects have already irreparably damaged the ecosystems that once sustained generations of Pessamit Innu. Hydro-Quebec has repeatedly failed to address Pessamit Innu concerns, and have not even attempted to adequately compensate them. Instead, they have planned yet another project, again without consulting the people whose livelihoods are most at stake.
Yale’s proxy ownership through Bayroot raises deeper questions about the ethical principles upon which the University’s investment policies are predicated. Bayroot has purchased 125,000 acres of forest in New Hampshire and even more land in Maine, making Yale, by extension, one of the largest landowners in the Northeast.
Bayroot manages its land holdings through a company called Wagner Forest Management. Rather than purchasing forested land to provide sustainable ecological management, Wagner leverages its land to maximize profit, often clear cutting large tracts of forest that take decades to regenerate.
One of the core tenets of the Yale Sustainability Plan 2025 is to “plan and preserve resilient and sustainable infrastructure and landscapes.” Yet can Yale really claim to be committed to sustainability if it controls a company which directly subverts this principle? Can Yale claim to stand by indigenous communities if it enables the devastation of natural resources depended upon by the Pessamit Innu?
Yale needs to clarify the principles that guide its investment decisions and determine whether maximizing institutional profit should come at the expense of natural ecosystems. A good place to start would be engaging faculty members at the School of Forestry & Environmental Sciences in its land management decisions, which Yale does not currently do.
But for now, the Northern Pass Transmission project is the most pressing concern. The transmission line is awaiting the approval of its permit by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee. A decision is expected this September. Now is the time to act.
If Yale blocks the Northern Pass Transmission, it will be difficult for Eversource to adapt. Conservation groups have purchased land to block other potential routes, and local landowners across New Hampshire say they will refuse to sell to the project. University President Peter Salovey and the Yale Corporation must acknowledge the University’s duty to block the Northern Pass. Refusing to act would be a moral failure.
Sophie Freeman is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. She is the president of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Correction, April 26: Due to an editing error, the previous version of this article did not accurately describe the nature of Bayroot’s ownership, referred to the power line as a pipeline and did not include the full description of Pessamit Innu’s concerns regarding the power line brought to Yale on March 31.