By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader
February 03. 2018 9:32PM
The handwritten message atop this sign displayed in the window of a business on Main Street in Plymouth captured the sentiments of many townspeople who are pleased with the state decision to deny the project’s application, but predict the fight will continue. (Bea Lewis/Sunday News Correspondent)
New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee members
Martin Honigberg: chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission and the committee’s presiding officer
Kathryn M. Bailey: PUC commissioner
Craig Wright: air resources division director in the state Department of Environmental Services
Christopher Way: deputy director of the Division of Economic Development in the Department of Business and Economic Affairs
William Oldenburg: assistant director of project development at the state Department of Transportation
Patricia Weathersby: private attorney
Rachel Dandeneau: assistant professor of environmental science at White Mountains Community College, Berlin
Source: NH Site Evaluation Committee
Northern Pass officials say they have no drop-dead deadline for earning state approval for their transmission line project, but others involved say they won’t wait forever.
The CEO of Hydro-Québec, which would supply power to transmit over Northern Pass’ lines, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that “we knew there was a risk in New Hampshire” and HQ has other options.
“Hydro-Québec has proposed also a line going through Vermont and a line going through Maine to get to the same place,” said Eric Martel. “The people of Massachusetts want energy so, at some point, we’ll find a way.”
Last week, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee voted unanimously to deny a Northern Pass application for a certificate of site and facility, saying it failed to meet its burden to show the project wouldn’t unduly interfere with the region’s orderly development.
On Friday, a Massachusetts official said the Bay State could move on to another project if it couldn’t finalize contract negotiations with Northern Pass by March 27 after it beat out more than 40 others in a bid to provide renewable energy to the Bay State.
“In the event that Massachusetts electric utility companies are not able to finalize a contract consistent with the project’s proposed terms, the companies in coordination with the Department of Energy Resources and overseen by the independent evaluator would be tasked with selecting another project to advance to contract negotiations …,” said Peter Lorenz, communications director with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Northern Pass has said its project is not contingent on securing such a power sales arrangement in Massachusetts.
The project’s 192-mile route, which runs through more than 30 communities from Pittsburg to Deerfield, includes 60 miles of buried lines. The $1.6 billion project would transmit power generated by hydroelectric dams in Quebec.
The New Hampshire SEC held 70 days of hearings, heard from 168 witnesses and accepted an estimated 500,000 pages of exhibits. On the third of 12 days set aside for deliberations, the committee voted unanimously to deny the application before considering all the criteria Northern Pass needed to meet.
Northern Pass – which spent $249 million on the project through Sept. 30 – plans to file a motion for reconsideration and also has a later option to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
“We really do feel that the committee basically dismissed facts in the record in favor of supposition that’s not supported by the record,” said project spokesman Martin Murray.
The committee’s attorney, Michael Iacopino, said: “Their vote was legal.”
If a motion for reconsideration is granted, “there will likely be more hearings before the Site Evaluation Committee,” Iacopino said.
National Grid, which is proposing a rival transmission line to bring Canadian wind power to New England, plans to file an application with the SEC in the next few months.
“We started this project with the idea of preserving the natural beauty of New Hampshire and minimizing impacts,” said Will Hazelip, vice president of U.S. transmission for National Grid Ventures.
The $1 billion project would primarily use National Grid’s existing rights of way with the need to expand the right of way for about 5 miles north of Monroe.
The project forecasts it will be in service by the end of 2022, two years later than the current Northern Pass date.
People who follow the energy industry say it’s possible Massachusetts could drop Northern Pass.
“It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities another bid involving HQ may be the next one down the list or something completely different,” said Robert Grace, managing director and president at Sustainable Energy Advantage in Framingham, Mass., which does energy market analysis.
In his 30 years in the business, he said, he had never seen regulators “just shortcut the process and voting something down without going through the whole process” as he said happened with the SEC.
The SEC decision “cannot and will not be ignored” by Massachusetts officials, Grace said.
Jack Savage, a Northern Pass critic, said HQ officials were “hedging their bets” by submitting multiple bids to supply power through different New England states.
So if “Massachusetts opens the drawer full of bids and looks for an alternative, Hydro-Québec wants to be among them,” Savage said.
HQ spokesman Lynn St. Laurent said the Massachusetts request for proposals had many different criteria.
“Hydro-Québec wanted to give the evaluation team a range of transmission and energy options, and therefore presented three solid transmission projects with recognized energy leaders,” she said.
That was “a prudent approach, considering siting energy infrastructure projects is always a known risk,” she said, adding, “HQ remains committed to NPT (Northern Pass Transmission).”
In 2013, the SEC rejected the Antrim Wind project, citing its impact on aesthetics. Officials with the proposed wind farm revised its plans, which were approved in late 2016.
The case is now before the state Supreme Court, which recently heard oral arguments.
Eric Maher, an attorney for that project’s opponents, said he expects a decision in about six months – about 14 months after he filed an appeal.
Maher, who also represented Berlin in the Northern Pass proceedings, said he thought any appeal by Northern Pass would take longer because “it’s more of a task for the court to review the record and evidence.”
An Antrim Wind official wrote the SEC that construction on that project was expected to start this month, despite the lack of a court decision.
“Northern Pass isn’t the first time they’ve denied a project,” Maher said of the SEC.