- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A bill to require non-essential power lines to be buried in New Hampshire needs to be less of a mandate and more of an option and should consider other factors including cost and use of public and private lands, the measure’s sponsor said Thursday.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro proposed the measure to try to break what he calls a logjam in the now-four-year-old Northern Pass proposal to route high-voltage transmission lines over 187 miles from Canada to southern New Hampshire. The $1.4 billion project would deliver 1,200 megawatts of hydropower, which supporters say is needed for hungry southern New England markets.

That project is awaiting action from federal and state regulators.

Under the measure that was unanimously tabled Thursday, projects not deemed necessary for reliability would have to be buried if there’s no reasonable alternative.

Bradley acknowledged the language of the bill needs to be reviewed but said the energy needs of the region won’t go away and something needs to happen to streamline the siting process.

“There’s basically been a stalemate, a standoff, for four years since that proposal was unveiled,” Bradley said. “People from our region of the state have quite frankly stood up loudly and clearly to protect their property values. And my friends, they’re going to continue to stand up for that.”

Bradley noted that it’s easier to defeat a transmission plan than it is to approve one and that some common sense regulations can help satisfy opponents and supporters of power projects. For example, the current bill requires the lines be buried unless no feasible alternative exists. Bradley said a House bill softens that requirement and also considers cost as a reasonable factor to weigh when siting a power line.

Supporters have argued that buried lines will spare the region the visual blight that cuts into property values and stunts economic development while opponents, including the company proposing the Northern Pass project, said requiring contractors to bury the lines will add project costs and keep energy rates high.

Northeast Utilities, the company proposing Northern Pass, said it was encouraged by Thursday’s action.

“It’s clear that New Hampshire lawmakers understand the precarious situation the region faces when it comes to securing a reliable energy future,” said spokeswoman Lauren Collins. “We especially want to find consensus so that important projects such as Northern Pass move forward and begin to address our significant energy challenges.”

The current bill also uses only public rights of way, and Bradley said including a provision for using private lands, too, would offer more flexibility to utilities who have opposed the current measure.

“The people who opposed this bill,” he said, “at some point in time, they’re going to realize that they need it.”

Bradley said he will study the House bill and see what language can be incorporated into his measure. He expects to resubmit the bill during this legislative session.

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