Just How Green Is Northern Pass?

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.

Northern Pass Just Isn’t Worth It

How much would electric rates need to decrease to justify the construction of 192 miles of sky-high transmission towers and lines from Canada to Deerfield?        

Before you answer that, let’s first look at the component parts of electric rates. The three largest components are 1) distribution – the rate you pay for local wires, substations, transformers and the like to deliver electricity to your home or business; 2) transmission – the rate you pay for the cost of moving high-voltage electricity from a power generator to the distribution system; and 3) energy – the rate you pay for power.

Now let’s look at an actual bill. Electric rates for a typical Eversource customer are about 18 cents/kWh. My electric bill for March was $85.56 based on an electric rate of precisely 18.14 cents/kWh. The distribution rate was 4.2 cents/kWh, the transmission rate was 2.4 cents, and the energy rate was 11.2 cents.

If built, Northern Pass would only impact the energy component of our electric rates.    

According to a report recently submitted to the Site Evaluation Committee by the highly-regarded economics and financial consulting firm, The Brattle Group, on behalf of the Counsel for the Public, Northern Pass is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on electric rates. Based on their modeling of the four most plausible scenarios, The Brattle Group “found that NPT could provide New Hampshire customers with retail rate savings between 0 and 0.28 ¢/kWh (in constant 2020 dollar terms) on average from 2020 to 2032.”

In The Brattle Group’s best-case plausible scenario for Northern Pass, our electric rates would decrease by .28 cents/kWh. That’s right – just 10 percent of 2.8 cents.

That would have saved me a whopping $1.12 on my March bill.

Compare that to what I could save if I shopped around for a competitive energy supplier instead of relying on Eversource’s default energy service. I could lower my energy rate by about 3 cents/kWh which would have shaved almost $12 off my March bill.

The introduction of competition in energy generation 20 years ago in New Hampshire, which PSNH and its parent company Northeast Utilities (both now rebranded as Eversource) fought tooth and nail, and the other New England states except Vermont has had a meaningful impact on electric rates. As a New England Council report last fall noted, “while the average residential electric bill [in New England] as a percentage of median income was above the U.S. average in 1996, by 2015, every New England state was at or below the U.S. average.” It’s a completely different story for transmission - the part of our electric rates over which utilities such as Eversource still has monopoly control. In 10 years the average transmission rate has tripled from .8 cents/kWh to 2.4 cents/kWh. 

So take out your last electric bill, reduce the energy rate by .28 cents, and recalculate your bill.   Then decide for yourself if Northern Pass is worth the damage it will do to our landscape, wetlands and tourism industry.

The Video Eversource and Northern Pass Don’t Want You To See

In keeping with their insidious strategy of hiding information from the public, at the end of last month Northern Pass Transmission and Eversource asked the Site Evaluation Committee to block two videos and other testimony from opponents of the $1.6 billion transmission project from being considered as evidence.

Why are Northern Pass and Eversource so afraid of SEC members and the public viewing this video that depicts the damage Northern Pass will do to the communities at the northernmost point of the proposed transmission line?  Watch it and you’ll understand why – it’s very powerful.

Fortunately for the public, the SEC this week denied Eversource’s and Northern Pass’s attempt to shut out this video, another video depicting the damage building the transmission line would do Plymouth, and the testimony of 13 witnesses.

This is not the first time Northern Pass and Eversource have tried to keep out testimony from citizens who oppose Northern Pass. They even moved to eliminate an elderly couple from participating in the SEC proceedings because the couple didn’t know they had to appear at a technical session. Is the case for Northern Pass so weak that the participation of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, who don’t even have an attorney and are representing themselves, is such a threat?

And, even more disturbing, with the approval of the SEC, Northern Pass and Eversource have blacked out page after page of information in the report done by their economic experts, making it impossible for members of the public to analyze its findings. To the public, the report making the economic arguments for Northern Pass looks like this:

Experts at the Analysis Group who reviewed this report politely observed: “We have deep experience in reviewing reports on quantitative modeling studies where the authors go to great care to summarize assumptions, data inputs, and results.  The level of redaction here is categorically different from the norm.” 

Thwart the endless efforts of Eversource and Northern Pass to hide information from the public. Watch the video and then share it widely.

 

The Trial of the Century Begins

The Trial of the Century Begins

On April 13th at 9 a.m. the adjudicatory hearings to determine whether the Site Evaluation Committee will grant Northern Pass a certificate to site 192 miles of giant high-voltage towers and lines across New Hampshire will begin.

This will be the trial of the century, in part because it is the largest proceeding to ever be heard before the SEC, with more than 100 parties now involved, all to consider the largest project to be brought before the SEC involving the largest number of environmental impacts ever.  However, most importantly, it will be the trial of the century because it will determine the future character of our state

Operating as a quasi-judicial body, the SEC has scheduled 26 trial days between tomorrow and the end of July where witnesses for and against Northern Pass will testify under oath and be subject to cross-examination.

I’ll give you a quick rundown of what to expect and the active role you can play.

The Parties

This is a classic David and Goliath fight. On one side are the massive for-profit corporate applicants, Northern Pass Transmission LLC and PSNH d/b/a Eversource NH, and a few intervenors who support their cause.

On the other side is a large coalition deeply concerned about the impact of Northern Pass on our state - conservation organizations such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the Appalachian Mountain Club; many of the municipalities that Northern Pass will slice throughand conservation commissions in those towns; and scores of individuals who own property that either abuts the proposed transmission route or that the route will cut across.

Most of the municipalities are very small towns whose residents have voted to bear the cost of mounting a legal case against Northern Pass. Many of the individual intervenors can’t afford attorneys and expert witnesses and are appearing pro se.

Northern Pass clearly fears these pro se intervenors, going so far as moving to eliminate an elderly couple because they didn’t appear for a technical session. 

One party to the Northern Pass hearings observers should keep their eye on is the Counsel for the Public, Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Roth. His role is to represent the public interest, objectively ferret out the truth and present the relevant facts to the SEC.  

The Test Northern Pass Must Satisfy

Northern Pass will have the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that 1) the company has the financial capability to build and operate this $1.6 billion project 2) the transmission towers and lines “will not have an unreasonable adverse effect” on the landscape, historic sites or the environment; 3) it will not “unduly interfere” with the development of the region it impacts; and 4) it will serve the public interest.  The exact language of the four-part test Northern Pass must meet is set out in RSA 162-H16, IV.

While all of these factors are important in the SEC’s decision making, the conflicting statements from Eversource and Hydro-Quebec about who is responsible for paying for the construction of Northern Pass suggest that the question of whether Northern Pass can prove it has the financial capability to build the $1.6 billion project will be a major and determinative factor in this case. Remember, Hydro-Quebec said just a few weeks ago that it would not pay ‘a penny’ for any portion of Northern Pass in the US, despite years of Eversource’s representations to the contrary. 

The First Day

Bill Quinlan, the president and COO of Eversource NH, which is partnered with its Eversource sister company, Northern Pass, in this project and the SEC application, will be the first witness. Expect his testimony to focus on the Forward NH Plan, a $200 million pot of money Northern Pass plans to sprinkle around the state. The Forest Society contends that the $200 million pot was created to manufacture an argument that there is a public benefit from Northern Pass because there is no inherent public benefit to the project: “These `unnatural benefits’ are offered by the Applicants to sweeten the proposal and do not naturally flow from the construction and operation of the project itself.  By simply offering these sweeteners, the statute does not allow the Applicants to transform them into benefits of the project or ‘regarding the potential siting or routes of a proposed’ project.”

The Deciders

Seven of the nine members of the SEC have been chosen to serve to serve on the tribunal that will determine whether Northern Pass has met its burden.  They are Public Utilities Commission Chair Martin Honigberg, who will serve as the Presiding Officer; PUC Commissioner Kathryn Bailey; the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services or his designee; the Commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development or his designee; the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation or her designee; Public Member Rachel Whitaker of Stark, an assistant professor of environmental science at White Mountains Community College; and Public Member Patricia Weathersby, a lawyer from Rye.

Your Role

Throughout the four months of this trial you have the right to submit comments to the SEC. It’s easy – you just email your comments to Pamela.Monroe@sec.nh.gov, who is the SEC Administrator.  Now is the time to make your voice heard!

To keep up on what’s happening sign up as a Protector of the Granite State at this website,  check Protect the Granite State Facebook postings,  follow us on Twitter @ProGraniteState and then provide your comments to the SEC online. The future of New Hampshire is at stake!

No Pay, No Play:  SEC Northern Pass Hearings Are Premature

No Pay, No Play: SEC Northern Pass Hearings Are Premature

It’s become increasingly clear in the last few weeks that the Northern Pass project cannot go forward financially unless it wins the Massachusetts Clean Power RFP on terms favorable to Northern Pass. To proceed with the state Site Evaluation Committee adjudicatory hearings before the Massachusetts RFP is awarded will be a colossal waste of state, municipal and private resources.

The SEC adjudicatory hearings are a full-blown trial – one of the most important trials our state will see in the 21st century. The scores of intervenors in the proceeding, never mind applicants Northern Pass Transmission LLC and PSNH, will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorneys and expert witnesses. Dozens of state employees, including SEC members, professional and administrative SEC staff, and witnesses, will spend countless hours at taxpayers’ expense participating in the hearings – time that could otherwise be used serving the people of New Hampshire. The individual citizen intervenors, many of whom are appearing pro se, will spend days and days at these lengthy hearings.

And if Northern Pass does not win the Mass RFP, it will be precious money and time poured down the drain.

Ten years ago PSNH and Hydro-Quebec first cooked up the widely criticized idea of building 192-miles of transmission towersthrough New Hampshire to bring Canadian hydro power to southern New England.   At that time, the cost of power in New England was high enough that even with the very expensive transmission line factored into the price per kWh, it looked like it would be competitive in the New England power market. That’s why the Transmission Service Agreement reached between Northern Pass and Hydro-Quebec and filed with FERC makes Hydro-Quebec responsible for the cost of constructing the transmission line.

But Hydro-Quebec no longer intends to pay to build the line.   With low-cost natural gas now flooding the New England power market, the power that would travel via Northern Pass simply cannot compete unless the $1.6 billion transmission line is subsidized by someone else. Indeed, despite the clear terms of the Transmission Service Agreement, Hydro-Quebec has publicly and emphatically stated in recent weeks it will not pay one cent of the cost of the Northern Pass transmission line in New Hampshire.

When it became clear it could not compete in an open market, Northern Pass started looking for other pockets to pick, trying to get consumers in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts to cover the cost of building the $1.6 billion line when it submitted a proposal in response to the New England Clean Power RFP.  Northern Pass lost.

Now it’s putting its eggs in the Massachusetts Clean Energy basket, the RFP for which was issued last Friday. Given that the Eversource MA electric utility helped write the RFP and will help choose the winner, Eversource-owned Northern Pass may believe its chances are good. But last week National Grid, which also owns an electric utility in Massachusetts that is playing a role in the RFP, announced its proposal for a transmission line through Vermont and New Hampshire.   The Grid proposal seeks to bring power from Canada along existing transmission lines, rather than gashing New Hampshire with a new line as Northern Pass would, and will compete for the Massachusetts RFP. And the estimated cost for National Grid’s proposal is $600 million lower than the cost of Northern Pass. Also expected to compete is the fully-permitted and less expensive TDI transmission line that will run through Vermont.

Northern Pass claims it will have other financing options if it fails to win the Massachusetts Clean Power RFP. What are they? It won’t say. But the fact is it simply cannot compete without a $1.6 billion subsidy from somewhere.

The right thing now would be for Eversource and Northern Pass to voluntarily ask the Site Evaluation Committee to postpone the adjudicatory hearings until the Mass Clean Power RFP winners are announced. But it won’t.

Several municipal intervenors have filed a motion with the SEC asking that the hearings be postponed for six months while the questions over Northern Pass’s financing are resolved. To prevent a historic waste of time and resources, the SEC should grant this sensible motion.       

PUC Could Intercept Northern Pass on Eminent Domain Grab

The next shoe to drop on Northern Pass’ struggling proposal to build a system of massive transmission towers and line across New Hampshire could be a Public Utilities Commission decision that PSNH cannot lease its transmission corridors to Northern Pass.

Most of the 192-mile route Northern Pass has proposed relies on leasing rights of way PSNH obtained over many decades through eminent domain takings and easements it purchased from private property owners. The problem for Northern Pass Transmission LLC is it may have no legal right to use this property, and that issue is now pending in an open PUC docket.

New Hampshire’s restrictive eminent domain law is not on Northern Pass’s side. 

In 2012 the legislature, in response to concerns that Northern Pass might try to take property by eminent domain, passed legislation to make it clear property could not be taken for a private merchant energy project like Northern Pass. Just a few years earlier the people of New Hampshire voted to include in the state constitution very strong language to protect people from having their property “taken by eminent domain and transferred, directly or indirectly, to another person if the taking is for the purpose of private development or other private use of the property.” It’s hard to argue that PSNH leasing its rights of way to Northern Pass is not an indirect taking of private property for private development in clear violation of N.H. Constitution Part I, Article 12-a and RSA 371:1.

As for PSNH leasing to Northern Pass rights of way it purchased from private property owners, let’s simply consider the fact that PSNH itself took the position a few years ago that these rights couldn’t be leased to a third party when a telecommunications company merely wanted to lease space on PSNH utility poles for fiber optic cables. PSNH argued then to the PUC that adding cables from a third party to existing PSNH poles would be an impermissible burden on the underlying owners of the property.

How times have changed. Now PSNH argues to the PUC that it would be no burden at all for a third-party – Northern Pass – to construct massive transmission towers and lines on these rights of way. Certainly the underlying property owners consider it an unacceptable burden, given how many of them have intervened in the PUC proceeding to object to the leases.

The PUC hasn’t set a date for when it will rule on the legality of these leases, but when it does I expect it will send Northern Pass back to the drawing board to design a whole new transmission route.  

Opposition to Northern Pass Intensifies

As we approach the start date for the Site Evaluation Committee’s adjudicatory hearings on Northern Pass it is clear that opposition to the 192-mile transmission line that will tear across New Hampshire is increasing significantly. Let’s look at the results of polling the University of New Hampshire Survey Center has done on Northern Pass the past few years.

Two years ago more New Hampshire residents supported Northern Pass than opposed it, with 42 percent supporting and 34 percent opposed. That support began to slip later in 2015, and the downward trend continued in 2016, with 39 percent of those polled actually opposing Northern Pass and only 35 percent supporting.

Today? Northern Pass is underwater and sinking fast.   A UNH poll released last month revealed opposition is accelerating this year, with 42 percent opposing Northern Pass and only 34 percent supporting it.  That’s a 16 point swing against Northern Pass in less than two years.

If you don’t believe those numbers, then believe this.  Just this month volunteers submitted a petition to the Site Evaluation Committee with 3,465 signatures from people throughout New Hampshire opposing Northern Pass.

It’s no wonder public opinion is trending against Northern Pass.  With the cost of power dropping in New Hampshire, increasing questions about whether New Hampshire ratepayers will be made to pay for the project, and more and more New Hampshire residents and businesses recognizing that the permanent damage to our landscape, fragile wetlands, property values and tourism industry that will occur from constructing 192 miles of towers and lines, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Northern Pass just isn’t worth it.

At the same time people in Quebec are beginning to organize against Northern Pass, in part because the Quebec portion of the transmission lines would cut through the Hereford Forest conservation area. "’It's a movement that is beginning, expanding and growing,’ says Nature Québec CEO Christian Simard.”

The people of New Hampshire and Quebec know that Northern Pass serves no public purpose and is a threat to the environment. Will their elected officials listen?

Northern Pass Is A Really Bad Bet

Northern Pass Is A Really Bad Bet

By Judy Reardon

Do we need the Northern Pass transmission line to lower electric bills in New Hampshire? That’s what the advocates of Northern Pass have been saying for years to justify the permanent damage this 192-mile transmission line will do to our scenic landscapes, fragile wildlife habitats, property values and tourism industry. 

Not so, according to a study by the Carsey Center for Public Policy at UNH released last week that has received little news coverage.

In fact, this study reveals that the average residential electric bill in New Hampshire is the same as the national average and the average commercial electric bill is actually lower here than the national average.

And this will be the case for the foreseeable future. A just-completed bidding process for the power New England will need in 2020-2021 came in with the lowest price in years.

That’s the price of power. What’s been driving up electricity rates in New Hampshire and the rest of New England is the cost of all the new transmission lines that have been built in recent years. 

That’s why we need to consider the cost of constructing the Northern Pass transmission line, which Eversource currently estimates to be $1.6 billion. Maybe I’m cynical, but Eversource (that’s what PSNH wants to be called now) has a long history of grossly underestimating the cost of large construction projects. I’d bet my house that if the Northern Pass transmission line is ever built it will end up costing way more than $1.6 billion.  That would be a good bet for me, but Northern Pass is a bad bet for New Hampshire.

Hydro-Quebec to New Hampshire Ratepayers:   “We Will Not Pay”

Hydro-Quebec to New Hampshire Ratepayers: “We Will Not Pay”

By Judy Reardon

 Today’s reporting that Eversource and Hydro-Quebec are at odds over who will pay for the multi-billion dollar Northern Pass transmission line brings back to the forefront the mysterious and unanswered question that has hung over this project since its inception: Just who is going to pay the massive cost for building the 192 miles of tower and lines that will cut across New Hampshire?

Eversource has promised over and over that no one in New Hampshire will pay a nickel for the transmission line, even including this promise on its website. Eversource says, don’t worry, customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut and Hydro-Quebec, will bear the entire cost.  

If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

Just yesterday, Hydro-Quebec issued a statement, indicating very clearly that it has no intention of paying for any of the cost of the transmission line in New Hampshire.

Who pays?   You and me.    Hydro-Quebec’s statement leaves no doubt:  

These are American consumers who will pay the cost of transport

in their territory through their electricity rates.”

 This afternoon Eversource says, yeah, Hydro-Quebec is only going to pay for the Canadian portion of the transmission line, but, don’t worry, we will get unsuspecting Massachusetts ratepayers to pay for the New Hampshire portion of the line.  Eversource really said that.  http://blog.northernpass.us/2017/03/09/understanding-northern-pass-cost-recovery/

Based on past experience it’s impossible to believe Eversource that no one in New Hampshire will pay for the construction of the Northern Pass transmission line. This is the same company that just a few years ago got approval from state government to update its coal-burning plant in Bow based on its representation it would cost $250 million. No surprise, it cost $422 million, and New Hampshire ratepayers are footing the bill. Oh, and the estimated market value of that plant is now $10 million.    Not a great deal for ratepayers.

This is also the same company that 30 years ago promised us it could build a nuclear power plant in New Hampshire that would generate power so inexpensive it wouldn’t even need to be metered. Well, we all know how that turned out. Building the Seabrook nuclear power plant bankrupted PSNH, resulting in it being owned by a Connecticut energy giant, and we ratepayers are paying the so-called “stranded costs” for PSNH’s risky investment.  Another lousy deal for ratepayers.

PSNH can change its name to Eversource, but it can’t change its history of shifting the cost of risky investments to New Hampshire families and businesses. There’s no reason to believe them now about who will pay for Northern Pass.   You and I will pay the bill – but only if we allow Northern Pass to succeed.

 

A New Hampshire native, Judy Reardon has over 30 years of experience in government, law and politics. She has served as Chief Legal Counsel to US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Legal Counsel to then-Gov. Shaheen, where she worked extensively on the restructuring of New Hampshire's electric industry. Judy also served two terms in the New Hampshire State House of Representatives.