- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The company building a controversial electricity transmission project in New Hampshire found itself on the defensive on the first day of a critical hearing as it was questioned about the route of the project, the impact on scenic views and its financial incentives to communities to help with economic development and tourism.

First conceived in 2010, the Northern Pass project calls for building a 192-mile electricity transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, carrying enough Hydro-Quebec energy to southern New England markets to power about a 1.1 million homes.

Supporters say the project would bring much-needed clean energy to the region, which would help alleviate high energy prices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Opponents say the proposed towers - some as high as 155 feet tall - would mar scenic views in the northern part of the state, hurt tourism and damage property values in communities in the project’s path.

William Quinlan, the president of Eversource’s New Hampshire operations, told the state’s Site Evaluation Committee on Thursday that it had done everything it could to address concerns about scenic views and that burying the entire $1.6 billion project would be economically impractical. The company argued that burying the lines entirely would raise the cost by $1 billion.

Quinlan acknowledged he had been peppered with concerns about the visual impact of the towers in meeting with residents, mostly around the White Mountain National Forest. That prompted the company to amend its plans in 2015 to include the burying of 60 miles of the line going through the White Mountains.

Eversource has proposed using a less invasive monopole design in some places, rather than the traditional lattice frameworks, Quinlan said. Company officials also are looking at other measures, including lowering the heights of some towers, planting vegetation to shield them and even choosing colors that make them less intrusive.

Tom Pappas, an attorney appointed to represent the interests of New Hampshire residents, challenged Quinlan over money the company is offering businesses and communities as part of the project. Anchored by Eversource’s $200 million Forward New Hampshire Fund, the company is promising funding over the next 20 years to support “economic development, community betterment, tourism and clean energy innovation,” mostly in the North country.

But Pappas implied the funding so far was being used to garner support for the project.

One of the project’s biggest backers, executives behind the redevelopment of the Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch, received a $2 million loan last year from the Forward New Hampshire Fund. Eversource has since committed to loaning the Balsam’s project another $3 million.

Scott Tranchemontagne, spokesman for Balsams, denied there was any connection between the loan and its support for the project. They support the project because it is a new source of “clean, renewable energy,” he said.

Pappas also cited an agreement with Roger’s Campground in Lancaster, in which the Forward New Hampshire fund paid for the installation of an electric vehicle charging station. In exchange, he said, it required the company to sign an agreement to support the project.

“That was certainly part of the deal which was logical,” Quinlan said of the Roger’s agreement, adding the company only wanted to ensure the funding wouldn’t go to anyone who “would disparage the source of the funding.”

Jack Savage, of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests which opposes the project, said the fund showed the project itself “imposes a burden on New Hampshire communities and land owners and doesn’t really have many benefits for New Hampshire itself.”

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