- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The proposed Northern Pass power transmission project could have a negative effect on tourism, wildlife and property values in New Hampshire, but it would cost less than other alternatives, according to a long-awaited environmental report released Tuesday.

The draft report from the U.S. Department of Energy considered the proposal, first applied for on Oct. 14, 2010, plus nine alternatives. A 90-day public comment period will be scheduled on the report and hearings before a final study is prepared.

Northern Pass is Eversource Energy’s $1.4 billion proposal to construct a 187-mile electrical transmission line across New Hampshire to carry 1,200 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 1.2 million homes - to power-hungry southern New England markets. Only 8 miles of the line would be buried; alternative proposals bury a greater amount.

The report said the current proposal was the only one that would be inconsistent with existing White Mountain National Forest Plan standards. It said the overhead transmission line could be seen from “historic architectural resources and thus could adversely affect the historic context of these sites more than the underground alternatives.”

The report said a need to clear about 40 miles of land would increase the potential for impacts to wildlife, including protected species.

It said because construction costs would be lower than other alternatives, tax revenue collected along the route would be lower. But visual impacts may also result in lower property tax values.

Northern Pass project leaders said in a statement they are analyzing the report and have been considering proposed route alternatives as they seek feedback. They said they will provide the public with an update on any changes to their proposed route before it goes before the state for review.

Project leaders said their objective is to submit “a balanced plan that is broadly supported and that will deliver much-needed clean power, lower energy costs and significant economic benefits to the residents of New Hampshire, while also minimizing impacts to New Hampshire’s natural resources and landscapes.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan remains opposed to the initial Northern Pass project as proposed and believe that backers must fully investigate burying more sections of the lines, said a spokesman for the Democrat, William Hinkle.

“She will continue to encourage the company to listen to the concerns of Granite Staters, and if it is going to move forward, propose something that ensures lower costs for New Hampshire ratepayers and that protects our scenic views and beautiful natural resources, which are critical to our economy,” Hinkle said.

State Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who had proposed a bill burying electric transmission lines, said, “It seems to be pretty clear from what I’ve gleaned so far is that the least environmental impact is more burial. That’s pretty consistent with what folks in the North Country are looking for - more burial, not less. So I think that the environmental assessment sort of backs that up.”

Project backers say it would create jobs and provide clean hydropower from Canada. They say burying the lines would be too expensive and impractical over such rugged terrain.

Federal hearings on the draft report have been scheduled on Oct. 6 in Concord, Oct. 7 in Whitefield, and Oct. 8 in Plymouth.

Once the public comment period and hearings are over and a final study is done, Eversource will file an application with the state’s revamped site evaluation committee. When the application is determined to be complete, the state has a year to approve or deny it.

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Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Concord contributed to this report.

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