This month the Site Evaluation Committee issued a withering written denial of Northern Pass’s Motion for Rehearing, replete with the SEC’s findings that the case Northern Pass presented was “not credible” and “not reliable.”
In the face of such a powerful rejection of its proposal to build a 192-mile industrial extension cord across New Hampshire to bring Canadian hydropower to southern New England, you might think Eversource would go back to the drawing board and try to come up with something more acceptable than Northern Pass.
But, no, Eversource said it would appeal the SEC’s well thought out, painstakingly detailed 68-page decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Apparently the company’s thinking is that the project is “too big to fail” - since they've already spent nearly $300 million on the Northern Pass boondoggle, why not roll the dice and spend a few million more on an appeal.
Given that the crux of the SEC’s decision was its detailed, numerous findings that Northern Pass’s expert witnesses were “not credible” and “not reliable,” it would be shocking if the Supreme Court reversed the SEC’s decision. After all, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that it will not substitute its judgment on issues such as the credibility of witnesses. In fact, just this spring the Supreme Court upheld the SEC’s decision to grant a site certificate in another case, stating, "When reviewing the [SEC's] decision, it is not our task to determine whether we would have credited one expert over another, or to reweigh the evidence, but rather to determine whether its findings are supported by competent evidence in the record."
Remember that under the law the burden was on the applicant for a site certificate, Northern Pass, to prove it would not unduly interfere with orderly development. Accordingly, the onus was on Northern Pass to prove it would not unduly impair tourism, property values, land use and other factors.
The SEC, in a carefully laid-out written order, found that Northern Pass’s witnesses were simply not credible. The SEC “members specifically addressed the testimony and reports filed by the Applicant’s experts, identified gaps and inaccuracies in the reports, identified the reasons why the testimony and reports were inadequate and not credible, and specifically stated why they could not be relied upon.”
One by one, the SEC written decision evaluates the testimony provided by the various experts.
Tourism. The SEC “found the Applicant’s expert testimony and report addressing the impacts of the project on tourism was not reliable” and it “considered Mr. Nichols’ testimony and found it unpersuasive, unsupported by the facts, based on false assumptions and, ultimately, unreliable.”
Property Values. The SEC “found that the Applicant’s expert testimony and report on property value impacts also simply was not reliable.” In its March order denying Northern Pass's application for a site certificate, the SEC explained, “Confronted on cross-examination Dr. Chalmers acknowledged errors in the studies he relied upon, but failed to adjust his ultimate opinion on the Project’s effect…. He gave little, if any, consideration to commercial property, condominiums, multi-family housing, vacant land, second homes or to property along the underground portion of the route….Dr. Chalmers presents no cogent explanation why properties beyond 100 feet from the right-of-way that experience a significant change in view would not suffer a drop in value as a result of the Project.”
Land Use. “The [SEC] reasoned, after evaluating the facts and circumstances of this case, that Mr. Varney’s testimony that the Project would be consistent with prevailing land
use because it would be constructed within an existing right-of-way was not credible” and stated, “its expert witness simply did a poor job of addressing the views of municipalities and local and regional planning agencies.”
The bottom line is Northern Pass presented a weak case. It’s time to move on.