Garry Rayno photo
InDepthNH.orgCONCORD — The Northern Pass Transmission project was described as a potential scar on New Hampshire’s face to solve a self-induced energy crisis for southern New England.More than 40 people spoke Thursday during a three-hour comment session before the Site Evaluation Committee, which is expected to decide the $1.6 billion, 192-mile, high-voltage transmission project by the end of September.
Many project opponents urged the committee to “do the right thing” and turn down the project saying it would irreversibly change the state’s landscape, heritage and way of life.
“These towers will be used to take electricity to Bridgeport, Conn., to light up a used car lot,” said John Jones of Sutton. “We don’t need this project.”
The few project supporters at the hearing, including the state’s largest employer, BAE Systems of Nashua, said the project would help drive down and stabilize electric rates that are some of the highest in the country while providing renewable energy.
“It is increasingly difficult to be competitive in New Hampshire due to the high cost of energy compared to other regions of the country,” said Mark Bailey, BAE’s director of facilities. “BAE Systems and all of New Hampshire businesses need low-cost, reliable energy in the state to remain competitive in a global marketplace.”
Bailey presented the committee with a list of 50 businesses from across the state in many industries and sizes supporting the project.
However other business owners turned out to oppose Northern Pass particularly those along the 50-mile section of buried line from Bethlehem to Bridgewater.
The owner of Polly’s Pancake House in Sugar Hill, Kathie Aldrich Cote, said two summer construction seasons for the project will have a tremendous negative impact on her 79-year-old business.
“We rely on these summer visitors to get us through the leaner months,” she told the committee. “We know from experience that any construction that affects access to our road, Route 117, affects our business.”
With the slowdown, she may have to lay off employees, she said, and would hurt her vendors.
“We implore you to consider the negative long-term effects of this project on our small towns and businesses,” Cote said. “Tourists will avoid the area, find other destinations to visit, and may not come back.”
Cote gave the committee letters from 75 other area business owners lamenting the project’s impact on their livelihood, with some saying they may not survive the disruption.
Lawmakers also turned out to protest Northern Pass and presented a petition signed by 100 House and Senate members.
“At its heights, we believe Northern Pass would literally disfigure the face of our state,” said Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare. “It would permanently scar some of the most iconic landscapes, destroying vistas that represent what is most special and unique about New Hampshire to residents and visitors alike — our sense of place and the image we seek to project to the rest of the country and the world.”
Another project opponent, Melissa Elander of Easton gave the committee boxes holding petitions from more than 20,000 people in opposition to Northern Pass.
“This indicates this project does not represent the values of New Hampshire’s citizens, visitors or Eversource ratepayers.” Elander told the committee. “I will be deeply affected by it.”
The opposition was not only to the project and its developer Eversource, but also to its partner Hydro-Quebec which will supply the electricity.
Several members of the Pessamit Innu First Nation, whose land was taken to construct several large scale dam facilities to produce the electricity, appeared before the committee.
Paul Pouliot of Alton, a member of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People, spoke for the group reading a statement from Innu chief Rene Simon.
He said the supreme court of Canada recognized their ancestral rights to their land that Hydro-Quebec had invaded between 1952 and 1978, building 13 hydro-electric plants and 11 reservoirs.
Pouliot said the company owned by the Province of Quebec created an environmental disaster. And he said the dams greatly reduced the salmon the Innu depend on for food.
“Should we be enabling Hydro-Quebec in its act of genocide against them,” Pouliot asked.
Lynn St. Laurent of Hydro-Quebec said her organization has working relationships with the native community on other projects all over the province with 30 agreements.
“Hydro-Quebec strictly abides by the operating rules of generating stations on the Betsiamites which were drawn up in collaboration with and approved by the community of Pessamit,” she said.
St. Laurent said Hydro-Quebec worked with the Pessamit to restore salmon in the river with impressive results but the agreement ended in 2007.
Many opponents of Northern Pass claimed the hydro produced electricity may be renewable energy, but not clean energy.
Pamela Martin of Plymouth noted the state does not have a definition of clean energy but does for renewable energy and large scale hydro does not qualify.
“This is a moral issue,” Martin said. “Northern Pass is not a solution to anything. Northern Pass is a huge problem. Northern Pass would be a betrayal.”
But supporters said something has to be done to bring down the cost of energy in New England if the area wants to remain competitive.
Energy broker Tad Dziemian of East Hampstead said he supports the project without question. “I get first-hand feedback, mostly complaints from my clients about the high cost of electricity,” he said, adding all six New England states are among the 10 most expensive in the country.
He predicted New England will experience double-digit rate increases because many generating facilities are shutting down.
While opponents asked the committee to do the right thing and turn down the project, Bailey asked the regulators for a thorough and fair process to reach a decision in a timely manner.
He noted BAE and other businesses were denied intervenor status with SEC saying their views would be represented by the Counsel for the Public, but that has not been the case.
“Listening to our concerns and bringing them forth to this committee are two different things,” Bailey said. “Businesses and individuals cannot wait any longer for lower cost energy.”
But project opponent Mark McCulloch of North Stratford said if businesses want cheaper electricity they can do what he did – install solar panels which account for 70 percent of the electricity he uses in his home and business.
He noted Northern Pass has been going on for seven years and has taken a toll on the people affected by the project.
“This is ridiculous to put the citizens of New Hampshire through this process for so long,” McCulloch said. “When you get ready to vote, listen to lump in your throat or heart and vote the right way. Do the right thing.”
Hearings on the 1,090 megawatt transmission project to bring Hydo-Quebec electricity to New England continue Friday.
The developers hope to complete permitting this year with the line operating in 2020.
Garry Rayno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org