- Associated Press - Thursday, August 10, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday recommended approval of a key permit in the Northern Pass power project.

The EverSource Energy project seeks to run a 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, carrying enough hydropower to southern New England markets to power about a million homes. After issuing a draft environmental impact study two years ago, the energy department re-evaluated the project after EverSource changed its proposal to call for burying 60 miles of lines instead of 8 miles.

The new report concludes the project wouldn’t have a significant impact on the environment and proposes that the department issue one of three necessary federal permits. In addition to the Department of Energy permit, the project would require permits from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee will vote on the project later this year.

EverSource officials called the energy department’s report a significant step forward.

“As this clean energy project continues to advance through the final stages of the New Hampshire permitting process, we are encouraged to have reached this major federal permitting milestone,” said Bill Quinlan, president of the company’s New Hampshire operations.

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 - would mar scenic views in the northern part of the state, hurt tourism and damage property values in communities in the project’s path.

In its report, the energy department said no studies have been completed on the potential impacts on tourism, and noted that tourism appears to be more affected by factors such as the stability of the national economy and gas prices than changes to specific sites.

“While it is reasonable to conclude that overhead portions of the project may have some level of impact to tourism within New Hampshire, and to individual locations proximate to the project route, these are not quantifiable,” the department said.

Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said he wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s report, but noted it is far from the final word.

“The Department of Energy has long and frequently reminded everyone in this process that they have no siting authority,” he said. “It’s up to the state of New Hampshire to decide what to do about Northern Pass.”

If the project wins state and federal approval, the line would be in service by the end of 2020.

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