One of the top talking points Eversource uses to sell the 192 miles of sky-high transmission towers and lines that Northern Pass will carve through New Hampshire is its claim Northern Pass will bring clean power from Canada to New England. But how environmentally friendly is Northern Pass really? Let’s take a look.
Despite Eversource’s claims that Northern Pass will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it actually could increase them. Hydro power primarily creates greenhouse gasses from the biomass decomposition in the big reservoirs created by damming rivers and flooding natural areas, and recent research found these reservoirs “emit 25 percent more methane than previously thought.” While hydro power does generate lower greenhouse gas emissions than coal or oil do, hydro generates more greenhouse gas emissions than wind or nuclear do.
So how Northern Pass affects greenhouse gas emissions depends on which types of power it would displace. Eversource, of course, asserts as fact that Northern Pass will only displace power from coal and oil, and even goes so far as to claim Northern Pass “will be a benefit to future wind and solar development.” The truth is no one knows today what type of power Northern Pass would displace. It’s going to depend on market forces at the time Northern Pass would come on line.
It’s quite possible that wind power is what Northern Pass would displace. Today in New England wind provides 1,100 megawatts of power capacity and another 6,900 MWs have been proposed. It’s also quite possible that Northern Pass could displace the 1,200 MWs of nuclear power we get from Seabrook Station. And even Hydro-Quebec acknowledges that the type of hydro power it generates emits more greenhouse gases than wind power and almost twice as much as nuclear power.
If the construction of Northern Pass did cause Seabrook to shutter or crowded out 1,100 MGs of wind power from coming on line, then Northern Pass could actually increase greenhouse emissions.
So, the one environmental benefit that Northern Pass touts is completely speculative.
But the environmental damage Northern Pass would cause is documented and extensive.
There is no question Northern Pass will damage New Hampshire wetlands, streams, rivers, and vernal pools and threaten endangered species.
Take a look at the conditional permit granted by the state Department of Environmental Services. There are 20 pages detailing the damage Northern Pass will do and the steps DES found necessary to “mitigate” the damage.
Rivers, brooks and ponds along the route will be impacted including:
- Pemigewasset River in Ashland, Bridgewater, Bristol, Campton, Hill, New Hampton, Plymouth, Thornton, Woodstock
- Ammonoosuc River in Bethlehem, Bridgewater
- Miller Pond in Bethlehem
- Connecticut River in Clarksville, Pittsburg
- Soucook River in Concord, Pembroke
- Turtle Pond in Concord
- John’s River in Dalton
- Lamprey River in Deerfield
- Nathan Pond in Dixville
- Gale River in Franconia, Sugar Hill
- Merrimack River in Franklin, Northfield
- Israel River in Lancaster
- Otter Brook in Lancaster
- Squam River in New Hampton, Ashland
- Suncook River in Pembroke
- Upper Ammonoosuc River in Stark
- Coffin Pond in Sugar Hill
- Beaver Pond in Woodstock
- Moosilauke Brook in Woodstock
- Walker Brook in Woodstock
Northern Pass will at least temporarily impact 134 acres of wetlands and 40 vernal pools, with some of the damage permanent.
Wildlife, birds and other species will be impacted, including rare, threatened and endangered species, such as the Karner Blue butterfly. Deer, moose, Canada lynx, and black bear habitats will be disrupted.
Then there is, of course, the visual impact on New Hampshire’s landscape from towers and lines, some of which will be a 160 feet high. By way of comparison, the eagle at the very top of the Statehouse rests at 150 feet from the ground.
On the other side of the border, Hydro-Quebec plans on slashing through the Hereford Forest on its way to connecting to the New Hampshire portion of the transmission line.
And, tragically, what we are promised in exchange for all this environmental damage is the likelihood that at most our electric rates will be lowered by one-third of one cent.