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Northern Pass Public Hearings Begin, DES Nominee Questioned on Project

Northern Pass

As the New Hampshire legislative session quickly comes to a close, the public hearings for the controversial Northern Pass project are just beginning to heat up. Thursday marked the first of three scheduled public statement hearings in Concord for people who are not intervenors in the project but have an interest in what happens.

The 192-mile proposed transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield would bring roughly 1,090 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to the New England power grid. Proponents say the $1.6 billion project could reduce the state’s high electricity costs and encourage businesses to move to New Hampshire. Opponents disagree and say the project would ruin the Granite State’s tourism industry due to the the high-voltage towers and construction that would impact local businesses.

“The proposed army of giant towers marching across the spines of these towns will cripple tourism, property values, community spaces, and family recreation, not to mention, their children’s health,” said Kathleen Sims of New Boston.

A total of 117 people are scheduled to make statements about the project during the upcoming hearings and about 70 percent have indicated that they oppose the project. June 15 was the first one, but there are others scheduled for June 22 and July 20. A possible fourth hearing could be included if more time is needed.

The hearings are part of the Site Evaluation Committee’s (SEC) ongoing adjudicative hearings that will continue throughout the summer months. The committee must decide whether to approve or deny Eversource’s Northern Pass application by September 30.

Eversource claims the hydropower from Canada will save New Hampshire ratepayers $60 million annually. Opponents are concerned about how much residents would ultimately benefit from the project and if they would end up getting stuck with the construction bill.

Although a majority of the speakers are against the energy project, some said the benefits outweighed the risks.

“There is no perfect solution when it comes to building out our energy infrastructure, but it seems to me that Northern Pass has struck the optimal balance,” said Tom Farrelly, a commercial realtor in Manchester.

Michael Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said the state’s economic future depends on new sources of electricity and lower electric rates.

“The key question to consider is, ‘Do the benefits outweigh the potential impacts?’ and the benefits unquestionably, yes, outweigh the impacts,” he said. “This is the best large-scale option we have before us right now with real tangible benefits to our state.”

The hearing saw two Republican state representatives speak out on opposite sides of the project.

Rep. Herb Richardson, R-Lancaster, said most people in the North Country favor Northern Pass because it would bring jobs and new tax revenues for towns along its route.

Rep. Brad Bailey, R-Monroe, said the North Country depends on the tourism industry and the project would ruin New Hampshire’s vistas, drive away jobs, and ultimately not lead to lower electric rates.

Students from Yale University traveled to the hearing to voice their opposition to the project. They also went to publicly ask the university’s administration to end its lease with Northern Pass. Bayroot, LLC is owned by Yale’s endowment and has a land agreement with Eversource which includes 24 miles in Coos County the company can use for the transmission lines.

However, the entities signed an updated agreement earlier this month extending the lease for another 93 years.

At a separate hearing on Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee to lead the state’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) was grilled over his position on Northern Pass.

“I think the issue is balance,” said Robert Scott, Sununu’s nominee. “I haven’t heard all the testimony to understand are the negatives outweighed by the positives.”

Sununu has been a fervent supporter of Northern Pass since his gubernatorial campaign last year. Scott currently sits on the SEC since he is one of the three state Public Utilities Commissioners, but he has recused himself from the Northern Pass evaluation process and indicated he would continue to do that if confirmed as DES commissioner.

More testimony at the Northern Pass public hearings is expected to include Granite State lawmakers, like Republican Reps. Bing Judd of Pittsburg and Neal Kurk of Weare. Expect to see more emotions and passionate pleas from residents before the SEC makes its final decision.

“I want you to know and I want you to understand that I would cut out my tongue and dig out my heart with a spoon before I would come to any conclusions I believe would be injurious to the town I love so much,” said Meredith Briggs of Deerfield. “Deerfield is my past, Deerfield is my present, and Deerfield is my future.”

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Yale Students Concerned About University’s Involvement in Portion of NH’s Northern Pass Project

As the Northern Pass application makes its way through the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, students opposed to the project are sounding the alarm of their own university’s involvement in the power plan. Students from Yale University recently toured the North Country to see how the 192-mile hydroelectric transmission line from Canada to Deerfield would affect the area.

The $1.2 billion project would impact most, if not all, of the New England states by physically building the lines in states like New Hampshire or through consumption of the energy in places like Massachusetts and Connecticut after it’s connected to the rest of the New England power grid. The SEC is poised to make a final decision on the project in September.

The students visited Lancaster, one of the towns along the proposed route, and said it was an eye-opening experience.

“You can’t tell how big Northern Pass is from New Haven, and we were able to understand the impact that huge towers and a wide path through miles of forests will have on the environment and local communities,” said Mehmet Dogan, a physics graduate student at Yale. “I was very moved by the passion and commitment of the people who are opposing Northern Pass. What drives them is a sense of pride in the beauty and the authenticity of northern New Hampshire.”

She said the students visited the area after an op-ed was published in the Yale Daily News in April criticizing the university’s involvement in the project. The op-ed pointed to land Yale owns that they leased to Northern Pass to build its power lines.

“University President Peter Salovey and the Yale Corporation must acknowledge the University’s duty to block the Northern Pass,” the op-ed reads. “Refusing to act would be a moral failure.

Bayroot, LLC, an entity that is 98.8 percent owned by Yale’s endowment, has leased a land agreement with Eversource, the parent company of the Northern Pass project. The lease includes 24 miles in Coos County the company can use for the transmission lines. The lease is up for renewal this year and now, students and faculty at the university are encouraging the university to not renew it.

However, it was reported in 2012 that Yale signed the lease with Eversource. Northern Pass officials are wondering why people are upset all of a sudden about the deal, but project opponents said Yale’s ownership was not apparent to residents until recently.

In a recent letter to Ingrid Burke, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Coos County Commissioner Rick Samson said the college should not “sit on the sidelines” on this issue.

“Unfortunately, Yale is undermining these sacrifices by leasing the only strip of land left that could still enable this transmission line’s route,” Samson wrote.

Samson said the university has one of the top forestry schools in the country and “it is Yale’s moral agent for environmental issues. The school benefits from the endowment fund, and so it should not abdicate responsibility for the environmental harm that this fund inflicts.”

Burke responded to Samson, saying, “I can imagine the environmental impact of the transmission lines, and how you and the county are feeling about that. I’m of course very interested to learn about what options are being considered by the siting authorities, and whether there are any at all that minimize impact, or whether there are alternative sources of energy.”

Yet, she went on to say that it’s not the school’s place to take a position on the Northern Pass project.

“In terms of our School supporting your group, my philosophy is that we do not generally advocate for any particular action or — we are a source of neutral information and analysis,” she wrote. “Universities need to be places that do not take stands, for many reasons, related to credibility and growing public distrust that our scholarship and our teaching are driven by a particular agenda.”

On May 10, a “teach in” was held at Yale to educate people on Northern Pass and the university’s role in the project. Lancaster-resident Liz Wyman, a 2004 graduate of the Yale School of Forestry, addressed nearly 50 attendees.

“Our message to Yale is to drop the Northern Pass lease and open up a broader conversation as well about Yale’s management issues for this property,” she said.

The Yale Student Environmental Coalition (YSEC) held an earlier event on March 31 to make students aware of the impact Northern Pass would have on Coos County. They also invited leaders of Quebec’s Pessamit Innu First Nations who say their way of life is hurting because of these large land projects in Canada.

“Yale has a decision to make, and it’s going to determine what this University stands for,” said Sophie Freeman, Yale student and YSEC member, in a statement. “Will Yale support trampling the rights of indigenous people and unsustainable environmental practices, or will Yale act on its professed values?”

Wyman said a group of undergraduate students are submitting a letter to Yale’s investments office urging them to drop the Northern Pass lease, but a spokesman for Yale said the university “does not disclose its investments.”

According to a February poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, support for the project in the Granite State has declined in recent years. The latest poll found that 42 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat oppose Northern Pass, compared to 34 percent that either strongly or somewhat support it. However, 35 percent said they are not very familiar or are not at all familiar with the controversial project.

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Capt. James McCormick: NH Needs to Prioritize Energy Independence, Infrastructure Development

Every year, members of Vets4Energy pick a region of the country to travel the Purple Heart Trail in their vehicles. This year, they picked New England, bringing several U.S. military veterans through New Hampshire as they advocate for policies that increase America’s energy independence.

The Purple Heart Trail is meant to be a visual reminder to those who use the road system that there are people who paid a high price to give Americans the freedom to travel and live in a free society. Retired Army Capt. James McCormick, who is also the national program director for Vets4Energy, uses the experience to educate people along the route about his organization’s mission and how energy issues impact national security.

“A lot of people don’t think about those things,” McCormick told NH Journal. “Vets4Energy was the point where I could get engaged in something that could be an extension of my military service and contribution of the defense and security of this nation.”

There is a high number of veterans in the energy industry. The largest percentage of veterans work in corn ethanol and they make up about 19 percent of the workforce, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Department. About 18 percent are in the woody biomass fuel/cellulosic biofuels sector, 11 percent in solar, and 9.8 percent in both wind and natural gas. However, there are more veterans in the natural gas and oil industry because its the largest energy sector, supporting 8 percent of the U.S. economy.

Capt. James McCormick, program director for Vets4Energy (Photo Credit: Vets4Energy website)

Capt. James McCormick, program director for Vets4Energy (Photo Credit: Vets4Energy website)

McCormick retired from the Army after 22 years of service and now resides in West Virginia with his wife Heather. They have eight children, and he is also an organic farmer.

“I learned that there are two things you can’t fight without and that’s food and fuel, so ironically I’m involved in both aspects,” he said.

He was in Concord Thursday as he was wrapping up his route on the Purple Heart Trail. He and his colleagues started in Ohio, drove through northern Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls, across upstate New York, into Vermont, and through Concord. They drove to Portland, Maine on Thursday and then to Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, before going back to West Virginia to plant 55 maple trees in memory of their Gold Star members.

Vets4Energy boasts membership in all 50 states, including New Hampshire, and McCormick said the organization embraces an “all-the-above” energy approach, which includes wind, solar, hydropower, and natural gas and oil.

“We don’t condemn any other resources,” McCormick said. “We see the need for infrastructure development and how that relates to the big picture. The big picture is how do we heat our homes, how do we fuel our vehicles, how do we get from point A to point B, and where does that energy come from?”

The veterans group is pushing hard for oil and natural gas infrastructure projects, like the Keystone XL pipeline, “because it is the cheapest and most available resource we have for energy.” That’s not too surprising since Vets4Energy is sponsored and funded by the American Petroleum Institute. Yet, their membership includes veterans who work in various energy sectors.

“We’re not saying that there isn’t an opportunity for us to come to a point where it is totally renewable one day in the future,” McCormick said. “But what we are saying is that if we don’t do it smartly and we shut everything off at once, we’re not going to be existent as a country because we won’t be able to fire up the tanks or fire up the missile systems to defend ourselves.”

He said the group doesn’t like to get too political. They don’t endorse candidates in elections and work with people across the political spectrum.

“We’re just focused on the facts,” he said. “The truth is that our country is still dependent on imports for energy, and we should not be at the level. We should be exporting it and selling it. We should become the world leader.”

Although he’s not from the New England area, McCormick says he pays attention to what energy issues the northeast is facing. New Hampshire’s electricity prices are still some of the highest in the nation, at about 58 percent higher than the national average.

“When you look at how can we improve the economy of New England, that’s very simple,” he said. “We push the infrastructure development, we increase the number of pipelines, and we become more focused on an energy independent attitude. If we want to ‘Live Free or Die,’ the way we live free is to not be dependent on importing energy.”

The state is currently reviewing the application for the Northern Pass project, a 192-mile hydroelectric transmission line stretching from Canada to Deerfield. It’s a controversial proposal that has supporters wanting to bring more energy into the state and opponents saying the project would hurt tourism and ruin New Hampshire’s vistas. Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the New Hampshire State House on Sunday to oppose the project.

Although McCormick didn’t directly say he supported the project, he said the state needs to invest in big infrastructure projects to become energy independent and to create new jobs, which will help the economy.

“Without infrastructure development, you’re putting a Band-Aid over a bullet hole,” he said. “I’ve been shot a few times and I know that those don’t work.”

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This Week Has Seen Major Setbacks For Eversource, Northern Pass. Here’s Why.

Eversource

The month of March hasn’t been good to Northern Pass and its parent company, Eversource. First, there were the conflicting media reports that its Canadian partner, Hydro-Québec (HQ), isn’t paying for any part of the hydroelectric transmission line in New Hampshire. Then, there were allegations that their Transmission Service Agreement (TSA) with HQ expired. Now, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ruled against a petition filed by Eversource for a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with HQ, and there is a competing bid from a rival energy company that could give them a run for their money.

In June 2016, Eversource announced it had reached an agreement with HQ that would guarantee at least 100 megawatts of electric energy would be available to New Hampshire consumers at lower than the average market prices from the proposed Northern Pass project. Northern Pass is the controversial transmission project running 192 miles from Canada to Deerfield.

Under the terms of the proposed PPA, HQ would sell and Eversource would buy 100 megawatts of electricity and then resell it to the wholesale energy market, which would include any net gains or costs of its purchases and sales in its electric distribution rates.

The plan would have put the terms in writing that the Northern Pass project would benefit New Hampshire by ensuring 10 percent of the total 1,090 megawatts of energy would have stayed in the state. However, the PUC ruled Monday that the PPA would be against state law.

“That proposal, however, goes against the overriding principle of restructuring, which is to harness the power of competitive markets to reduce costs to consumers by separating the functions of generation, transmission, and distribution,” the ruling states. “Allowing Eversource to use the [Stranded Cost Recovery Charge] mechanism as a ratepayer financed ‘backstop’ for its proposed 20-year PPA would serve as an impermissible intermingling of a generation activity with distribution rates. We cannot approve such an arrangement under existing laws, and accordingly dismiss Eversource’s petition.”

It’s important to note that a PPA is not required for the Northern Pass project to receive the green light from the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), which will make a final decision on it this fall.

“A Power Purchase Agreement is not a requirement of our permit process, but the PPA was proposed as a response to many, including business leaders and policy makers, who asked for a guarantee that New Hampshire, as host state of the Northern Pass project, will receive its fair share of energy from the project and economic benefits above and beyond those received by other New England states,” said Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass, in an email to NH Journal.

Senate Bill 128 is being currently consider in the New Hampshire Senate and would make the restructuring law more flexible to allow the PPA. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday.

“We know there is broad support in the Legislature to provide regulators with assurance that they have the authority to consider whether proposals like the PPA would be in the best interest of customers,” Murray said. “SB128, if passed into law, would provide that assurance.”

Opponents of the Northern Pass project applauded the decision saying it’s a risky project that could put ratepayers at risk.

 

WHO PAYS FOR PROJECT IS STILL MURKY

Eversource has also received criticism in the past few weeks over the confusion on who is ultimately paying for the Northern Pass project. Canadian media started a firestorm after HQ officials were quoted saying they would not “pay a penny” for the Northern Pass line in the United States.

HQ issued a statement saying it won’t abandon the project and that the Canadian reports were written in error.

However, the public relations clean up from HQ and Eversource was messy and left more questions than answers for concerned parties. Allegations came up that the two energy companies had an expired TSA, which is required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) before the project could be approved by the SEC and it specifies the respective rights and obligations of the parties involved in the project, including the terms for recovery of costs.

In the original TSA approved by the FERC in 2010, it states that HQ would pay for initial construction costs and Eversource has repeatedly said that New Hampshire ratepayers would not foot the bill for the project.

Yet, HQ’s recent comments about not paying for the line in the United States seem to contradict what the TSA states.

“I am concerned that the means for payment and assurance of profitability sought by HQ may have effects on the quantification of benefits of the project to the people of New Hampshire,” wrote senior assistant attorney general Peter C.L. Roth in a March 20 letter on behalf of the Counsel for the Public to Eversource.

“On numerous occasions, in the Application and accompanying testimony, the Applicants have expressly stated that HQ or one of its subsidiaries would pay for the entire costs of the line,” he added.

Marvin Bellis, senior counsel for Eversource, responded to the letter on Tuesday, which was obtained by NH Journal, stating that the TSA is still in full force, but did not directly answer Roth’s questions about the cost of the project.

“To the extent you have further questions about these issues you will be free to inquire about them during cross examination when the hearings commence in April,” he wrote. “However, as noted above, the fundamental financial structure of the Project has not changed, and you, as the Counsel for the Public, are in no different a position today vis-à-vis the TSA than you were at the time the application was filed.”

The trial-like adjudicative hearings are scheduled to begin in April and run for about 40 days before the SEC makes a decision on the application by September 31.

This spring, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is expected to seek a “request for proposals” for clean energy delivered to customers. If Eversource and HQ are successful in winning the proposal bid, they will modify the current TSA agreement or add a new one. Regardless if they get the nod or not, Eversource reiterated that New Hampshire customers would not pay for the transmission line.

However, the bill could end up being paid by Massachusetts ratepayers. HQ said its expecting Massachusetts electric companies, who in turn could call on the consumers, to pay for the line.

“We know so far with certainty that it is the electricity distribution companies of Massachusetts who will be assuming the cost of this project,” HQ spokesperson Lynn St. Laurent told Canadian-media outlet The Suburban in a March 15 report. “As for the American portion of the proposed transmission line…once again, we say that [HQ] is not paying a cent for it, whether aerial or underground.”

 

NATIONAL GRID ADDS PROPOSAL TO MIX

To make matters even more complicated for Northern Pass, National Grid announced Tuesday that it wants to build a power transmission project from Canada to Londonderry.

Their plan, called the Granite State Power Link, would use wind and hydroelectric energy in eastern Canada and provide 1,200 megawatts to the region. It would transmit the power along 58 miles of line in Vermont, cross the Connecticut River into Littleton, N.H., and continue for 114 miles, before terminating in Londonderry.

The project has a $1 billion price tag, and would require 6 miles of new transmission lines in New Hampshire, mostly using its existing rights-of-ways in utility corridors.

Northern Pass welcomed the new project, stating it reiterates the region’s need for more renewable energy, but National Grid seemed less optimistic about both projects succeeding.

For comparison, Northern Pass is projected to cost $1.6 billion, provide 1,090 megawatts of power and be operation in late 2019 or early 2020. It would carry hydropower from Canada and new transmission lines would need to be built and some are expected to be buried.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has not weighed in on the project yet.

 

WAITING FOR SUNUNU, LABOR UNION REACTIONS

On NHPR Tuesday morning, Sununu reiterated his support for Northern Pass, before news broke about National Grid. He said it’s a “good project” and a “needed project” in order to keep energy costs down in the state for residents and commercial industries.

Sununu has been courting businesses across the globe since he was inaugurated in January, as part of his “100 businesses in 100 days” campaign pledge to woo them to set up shop in New Hampshire. He told NHPR he has spoken to businesses in the United States, including Arizona, but he has also spoken to ones in China and Taiwan.

It’s not immediately clear if he would change his support for Northern Pass to the National Grid project.

However, labor unions representing construction workers have also indicated they support the Northern Pass project.

North America’s Building Trades Unions sent a priority list to President Donald Trump earlier this year, which included Northern Pass on it.

McClatchy reported Monday that the White House requested the list of projects, as it switches gears and gets ready to focus on infrastructure. They were seeking projects to approve that require little to no federal funding.

It’s also not immediately known which energy project labor unions in New Hampshire would support.

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Northern Pass Seeks to Correct Claims That It Has an Expired Agreement With Hydro-Québec

Over the weekend, Northern Pass officials were trying to clean up after a bad week in the press. Opponents to the hydroelectric transmission line from Canada to Deerfield were suggesting that Eversource, parent company of Northern Pass Transmission, LLC (NPT), and its Canadian partner, Hydro-Québec (HQ), were not on the same page for the project and New Hampshire residents would ultimately pay for it.

Eversource spent the last few days trying to correct the record after various reports stated that HQ would “not pay a penny” for the Northern Pass line in the United States. The issue began earlier this month when Québec stakeholders asked why the state-owned utility company was paying to bury part of the line in New Hampshire, but refused to do the same in Québec. That led to a series of public statements where HQ said New England electricity consumers would pay for the cost of Northern Pass.

“The claim that they are making, that New Hampshire ratepayers will not be paying any of this cost, needs to be backed up with evidence that Hydro-Québec agrees to that,” Will Abbott, vice president of policy for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, told NH Journal. “It’s not clear that they produced any evidence that HQ has agreed to this as it has been proposed. It certainly seems like the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) shouldn’t be proceeding if there is a question about that issue.”

Northern Pass has reiterated that New Hampshire residents would “not pay for any costs associated with the project.” It’s written all over their website.

However, groups opposed to the project are not convinced that’s true and they point to an “expired” Transmission Service Agreement (TSA) between Eversource and HQ as proof that the two energy companies are not seeing eye-to-eye.

On Tuesday, Will Abbott, vice president of policy for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, one of the biggest challengers of the Northern Pass project, sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen asking for assistance in coordinating an inquiry to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to determine the status of a TSA between the two entities.

“Northern Pass has repeatedly argued that New Hampshire ratepayers are not paying for the construction  costs of their project,” the letter states. “They repeatedly cite the TSA as the basis for their claim that Hydro-Québec is paying for the construction of the transmission line.”

The TSA is crucial to the project because it specifies the respective rights and obligations of the parties involved in the project, including the terms for recovery of costs. The FERC-approved TSA is also required before the project can be approved by the SEC.

A Caledonian Record report called into question the current status of the TSA agreement, which began in October 2010. The original agreement stated HQ would reimburse Eversource for all development costs of the now-estimated $1.6 billion Northern Pass line. In December 2013, and HQ amended the agreement, including an extension to the deadline for obtaining all regulatory approvals.

“The parties have agreed to replace the term ‘third anniversary’ with the term ‘approval deadline,’ which is defined to mean Feb. 14, 2017, or such other date to which the parties shall mutually agree in writing,” the agreement states.

In the Forest Society’s letter to Shaheen, they claim that “it has become apparent” that the TSA “has expired, without any replacement agreement.”

“As of today, there is no record that HQ and NPT have agreed on a new TSA, or that they have submitted any new TSA proposal to FERC for its review,” the letter states.

Eversource responded Friday with their own letter to Shaheen saying the Forest Society “wrongly claims” that the TSA expired on February 14.

“The Approval Deadline was, in fact, extended earlier this year by written agreement between NPT and HQ,” the letter states. “Accordingly, the extension of the Approval Deadline was fully consistent with the terms and conditions of the already approved TSA.”

Northern Pass posted Thursday on its website that the term of the TSA began on the original execution date in October 2010 and continues 40 years from the time Northern Pass begins operation, unless it is terminated earlier.

Craig Cano, a spokesman for the FERC, made it clear that the TSA between Eversource and HQ still exists and is in use.

“The TSA was accepted with a 40-year term so [it] does not need to be ‘renewed’ in 2017,” he told NH Journal. “The item…may have confused the provision that set the Feb. 14, 2017 deadline for obtaining all regulatory approvals with the agreement itself.”

That means that Eversource and HQ, back in 2014, set a February 14 deadline for regulatory approvals — state, local, provincial, or federal — that the parties must obtain for the project. The SEC, a regulatory agency, still hasn’t put their final approval on the project, and isn’t expected to make a final decision until this fall. The amended language in the TSA allows for Eversource and HQ to agree on another date for those final approvals, but it doesn’t invalidate the whole TSA, or mean that the agreement has expired.

Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass, told NH Journal that Eversource and HQ agreed in writing earlier this year to extend the deadline and the extension does not need to be filed with the FERC. The extension of the agreement is until 2020 and a copy of the written agreement will be filed with the SEC this week.

Adjudicative hearings of the Northern Pass docket are expected to begin in April, with the SEC to make a final decision on the project by September 30.

Gov. Chris Sununu voiced his support for the project again when he was in Montréal on Monday, as part of his campaign tour to bring businesses to New Hampshire.

“Given our economic dynamics in New Hampshire, given our need for lower energy prices, our rich history with our manufacturing industry, there is no doubt that Northern Pass presents a great opportunity for New Hampshire, a great opportunity for Québec,” he told members of the Canadian press. “It’s a win-win on both sides. It’s a project I always said should happen, could happen, and I believe has to happen.”

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Questions Arise Over Who Would Ultimately Pay for Northern Pass

EPA Policymaking

In the past week, there have been several questions raised about the cost of the Northern Pass project and who is poised to pick up the cost once it’s completed. It also led to some public scuffles in the media between Hydro-Québec (HQ) and its New Hampshire partner, Eversource.

On Thursday, both companies said they remain committed to the $1.6 billion project to transport 1,090 megawatts of electricity to New England from Canada to Deerfield through 192 miles of hydroelectric power lines.

“Eversource and Hydro-Québec have had a long-standing partnership to develop a transmission project that would deliver much-needed clean hydropower from Québec to New England energy consumers,” according to a statement from Eversource.

But just one day prior, in three Le Journal de Québec articles, it appeared that HQ was reassessing its financial arrangement with Eversource. One article claimed HQ would pay to bury about 60 miles of the line, mostly through the White Mountain National Forest, but refused to bury about 11 miles of the line in Canada, despite pleas from local residents.

A second article stated that HQ has assumed the risks of the project and would have to pay the entire cost. Yet, a HQ official claimed New England consumers would ultimately pay for the $500 million additional cost for burying the lines and the entire Northern Pass project — a private transmission line for the exclusive use of HQ.

The third article suggested that HQ was considering abandoning the project if it wouldn’t be profitable for Québec residents. HQ is a crown corporation, meaning it’s a business essentially owned by the Province of Québec.

On March 8, HQ spokesman Serge Abergel told 98.5 FM that his company “will not pay a penny to build the line in the United States.” He argued that Hydro-Québec wanted “the transportation costs to be borne by the American customer and that’s what the partner Eversource says too.”

But in the Northern Pass statement, the company reiterated that the cost of the project will not fall on New Hampshire customers.

“Northern Pass Transmission, an Eversource subsidiary, will finance and build Northern Pass, the U.S. portion of the transmission project,” Eversource said in a statement. “Hydro-Québec will do the same for the Canadian portion of the project. The cost of Northern Pass will be recovered through use of the transmission line for delivery of energy to New England.”

Both companies said they are also working on a proposal to supply hydropower from Québec, using the Northern Pass transmission line, to Massachusetts. Proposals are expected to be submitted to the Commonwealth in the spring.

“We firmly believe in the strength of our alliance with our American partner, Eversource,” Hydro-Québec said in a statement.

What led to this very public skirmish between the two entities? It could have to do with the fact that HQ and Eversource may not have renewed its Transmission Service Agreement (TSA) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The TSA the companies filed in 2010 states that HQ would reimburse Eversource for all development costs. In December 2013, Eversource requested an amendment to their 2011 TSA noting delays in the project and wanting to change the term “third anniversary” with the term “approval deadline,” which they set as Feb. 14, 2017 or another date both parties mutually agree to in writing.

Spokespersons at the FERC said that to date there is no signed and renewed TSA between Eversource and HQ on file, according to a report from the Caledonian Record. Eversource also declined to say if they had a renewed TSA with HQ, what the terms were, and if it would present it to investors.

The TSA is important because it outlines how Eversouce is expected to be paid to build the Northern Pass line.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on Tuesday, asking her to make inquires at the FERC about the status of the TSA between Eversource and HQ:

“Northern Pass has repeatedly argued that New Hampshire ratepayers are not paying for the construction  costs of their project,” the letter states. “They repeatedly cite the TSA as the basis for their claim that Hydro-Québec is paying for the construction of the transmission line. The SEC [Site Evaluation Committee] and interveners in the upcoming adjudicatory hearing cannot fully address the economic issues of impact — or whether the project is in the public interest — without the information provided by the TSA affirming that there is in fact a legally binding agreement between the two parties to this project.”

Hearings are expected to begin on the Northern Pass project next month, which will help a subcommittee of the Site Evaluation Committee make the ultimate decision if the project will move forward or not by September 30.

While it appears the two companies have publicly reconciled their differences for now, Northern Pass project opponents are using the disagreement to reiterate their point that it’s likely Granite Staters, or even Bay Staters, will pick up the cost at some point if the project is completed.

“There’s no reason to believe them now about who will pay for Northern Pass,” said Judy Reardon, senior adviser of the group Protect the Granite State, in a statement. “You and I will pay the bill, but only if we allow Northern Pass to succeed.”

Those skeptical about the project also argue that the economic climate is changing for electric utilities, making the project less advantageous than when it was first proposed.

In 2011, when Northern Pass was first proposed, high natural gas prices drove electricity prices higher. However, those prices have dropped in recent years, and New England is currently seeing its lowest electricity costs in a decade.

According to a study released last week by the Carsey Center for Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, the average residential electric bill in the state is the same as the national average, and the average commercial electric bill is actually lower than the national average.

People who support Northern Pass say it will create jobs, deliver cheap electricity to the New England market, and is a important long-term economic investment into keeping energy rates low for residents and businesses. Gov. Chris Sununu has been a longtime supporter of the Northern Pass project.

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Two Energy Issues Facing the NH Legislature Under Gov. Sununu’s Term

It’s New Hampshire Energy Week in the Granite State. Throughout the week, lawmakers and energy policy advocates discussed some of the challenges facing the state, solutions to solve these problems, and important pieces of legislation coming up in the next two years.

Under the Republican-controlled Legislature, it’s not exactly clear what energy policy issues the GOP leadership and Gov. Chris Sununu are going to prioritize, but there are some interesting bills that could come up for a vote during Sununu’s term.

Here are two controversial energy bills in front of the Legislature this session:

 

REPEALING RGGI

Rep. Michael Harrington, R-Strafford, is sponsoring House Bill 592, which would end New Hampshire’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a cap-and-trade program where utilities pay for carbon dioxide emission allowances. This serves to control and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The funds from these allowances are used for energy efficiency projects and ratepayer rebates.  Currently, eight other states in the Northeast participate in the program. New Jersey was also a member of RGGI, but pulled out of the program in 2011.

This bill has been opposed by pro-energy and environment groups like the NH Sierra Club and the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association (NHSEA).

“Repealing RGGI would be a mistake for New Hampshire in terms of our economy, our environment and our public health,” said Michelle McCarthy, campaign organizer of Environment New Hampshire, at a hearing on the bill in February in front of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.

Opponents of the bills point to an Abt Associates report that was released in January, which estimates that the state avoided $100 million in higher health care costs by reducing pollution. They claim that since RGGI’s inception in 2008, electricity prices have decreased in the participating states by 3.4 percent, while costs nationally have increased by 7.2 percent.

Supporters of pulling out of RGGI say New Hampshire still has some of the highest energy costs, especially for commercial and industrial companies. With high energy costs, businesses are looking to move or expand in other states.

“This is not rocket science, and companies like Sig Sauer are doing the math and realizing it’s cheaper to move jobs out of New Hampshire to cheaper-power states,” said Greg Moore, state director of American’s for Prosperity, at the hearing.

In December, Sig Sauer announced it was expanding its operations in Arkansas, and New Hampshire’s high electric rates was a motivating factor. The company is still retaining its offices in the Granite State, though, and it was announced this year that the company was awarded with a whopping $580 million, 10-year contract with the U.S. Army to manufacture its pistols.

A University of New Hampshire research study released Tuesday determined that New England does not need to increase energy use to continue to grow its economy.

“It is important to prevent further increases in the cost of energy and ideally to reduce the overall cost of electricity in New Hampshire, especially for customer groups adversely affected by the state’s relatively high electricity prices, including more intensive commercial and industrial users as well as low-income households that pay a greater portion of their income for energy,” the researchers noted.

Kate Epsen, a member of the NHSEA, said it’s time to quash the belief that just because of New Hampshire’s energy prices, businesses are leaving or not coming to the state.

“We hear a lot of clamor over these high rates, but the bottom line of the bills people receive is that they are the same or lower than the national averages,” she told NH Journal. “We need to weigh the risks versus rewards of a single, very large type of project or more energy efficient technologies that are more broad based and keep jobs and dollars in the state economy.”

Epsen alluded to the ever controversial Northern Pass project — the 192-mile proposed hydroelectric line from Canada to Deerfield. Proponents of the project says the power would reduce energy costs for residents and businesses, but opponents cite possible environmental issues from putting the lines underground to high towers ruining New Hampshire vistas and impacting tourism. The state’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) is expected to decide in the fall if the project will move forward or not.

However, Moore and supporters of RGGI agreed that perhaps the program shouldn’t be repealed, but could be made better to fit New Hampshire’s needs.

He said all the money collected should be rebated to customers, which could save homeowners $1.3 million a year and commercial and industrial customers could save $2 million.

Catherine Corkery, chapter director of the NH Sierra Club, said the program should be made better, not eliminated.

“The politically motivated repeal bills are putting the program at risk every year, making it unstable and difficult for users to rely on,” she said. “Repeated repeal threats exhaust resources and delay helping people.”

The bill has been retained in committee, meaning after working on the bill during the summer months, it could come up again for a vote in the next legislative session. A complicating factor to the debate is the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP), former President Barack Obama’s initiative to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. RGGI currently satisfies the federal requirements for the plan, yet President Donald Trump has pledged that he would dismantle CPP and could do so as early as next week.

Sununu indicated on the campaign trail that he would consider withdrawing from RGGI, but only if other states also left.

 

REPEALING ELECTRIC RENEWABLE PORTFOLIO STANDARD

House Bill 225 would repeal the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which would require 17 percent renewables to be used by the state’s utilities this year. Those renewable energy sources include wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, solar panels, and even biomass plants.

If a utility does not meet its quota for renewable energy, it must make payments to the renewable energy fund, which is then spent on grants and rebates for individuals and businesses working on renewable energy projects.

New Hampshire’s RPS sets annual targets for electricity providers, and they meet targets by earning renewable energy certificates (RECs) for selling renewable power to retail customers. They can also buy RECs from other providers to comply.

Supporters of a repeal say renewable energy is more expensive than other energy sources, so the RPS forces consumers to pay for more expensive electricity. When utilities do not buy enough renewable energy, they essentially pay to subsidize more renewable energy projects. Due to these subsidies, there is little incentive for renewable energy sources to lower their prices. The legislature has also used money from the renewable energy fund to pay for unrelated budget items in the past.

Supporters of the RPS argue the law is necessary to ensure the development of renewable energy. A shortage of natural gas in New England caused electricity rates to spike over the winter months, highlighting the need for more diverse and renewable energy sources. Grants from the renewable energy fund also contribute significantly to the North Country economy, for the biomass and forestry industries.

Rep. Bart Fromuth, R-Bedford, sponsored a similar bill in 2015, but the House tabled it. However, the bill with an amendment was passed by the House in a Thursday executive session.

The Citizens Count, NH’s Live Free or Die Alliance — a nonpartisan organization looking to give citizen’s a voice in their local government — conducted a Facebook survey of New Hampshire residents on their support for the bill in January.

Approximately 55 percent said they were opposed to repealing the RPS, compared to 45 percent who were in favor of repealing, the survey found.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley has been a leading voice of energy policy in New Hampshire. He said he understand the concern of high energy prices, but doesn’t believe the bills repealing RGGI and RPS will ultimately pass.

“When all is said and done, the current laws will largely stay in place,” he told the Associated Press. “What we need to do in New England is to site new sources of generation in a way that protects people’s property values and their rights. That is a tough needle to thread.”

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NH Supreme Court Rules In Favor of Northern Pass to Bury Lines in Coos County

In a victory for Northern Pass, the state Supreme Court ruled that the controversial hydropower transmission plan can bury power lines under or alongside Route 3 in Coos County.

The court issued an order Tuesday, without oral argument, upholding an earlier Superior Court ruling against the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

The Forest Society argues that burying the lines exceeded the state’s right-of-way rules and would cause harm to the group’s property alongside the road in the town of Clarksville.

“We conclude that use of the Route 3 right-of-way for the installation of an underground high voltage direct current electrical transmission line, with associated facilities, falls squarely within the scope of the public highway easement as a matter of law, and that such use is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DOT [Department of Transportation] to regulate” the order stated, which was signed by the three justices.

This is just one court ruling dealing with the Northern Pass project. If the controversial project continues as planned, the Forest Society said they can expect more lawsuits.

“The Forest Society will be ready when they do,” the group said in a statement. “As a result, Northern Pass can likely count on additional delays if they continue to pursue their current proposal.”

The 192-mile proposed line from Canada to Deerfield would bring roughly 1,000 megawatts of electricity from dams in Quebec to the New England power grid. Proponents of the project says the power would reduce energy costs for residents and businesses, but opponents cite possible environmental issues from putting the lines underground to high towers ruining New Hampshire vistas and impacting tourism. The state’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) is expected to decide in the fall if the project will move forward or not.

In its November 2015 lawsuit, the Forest Society argued that Northern Pass must seek approval to bury a portion of the line “within the public right-of-way next to property it owns, and that burial of a transmission line does not represent proper use of the roadways,” according to Northern Pass.

The Forest Society is claiming ownership of the land that Northern Pass wants to use, and they asked the court for a declaratory judgement to find and rule that the land, known as the Washburn Family Forest, is unauthorized.

In May 2016, the NH Superior Court rejected their claim, saying the project’s proposed use is “within the scope of the highway easement,” and that the NH Department of Transportation has “exclusive jurisdiction over whether to grant the project the necessary permits and licenses.” The recent Supreme Court ruling reaffirmed this point.

“The Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Forest Society’s lawsuit against Northern Pass is unfortunate in that it puts off until later a private property rights issue of extraordinary importance to New Hampshire landowners,” the Forest Society said in a statement. “In short, the Court punted. The Supreme Court did not settle the eminent domain issue with regards to Northern Pass, but asks us all to wait until the [NH DOT] acts.”

But the Legislature has already prevented Northern Pass from taking private property for their project by eminent domain. However, 18 of the 31 towns that would be impacted by the transmission lines recently submitted a petition to the SEC saying they should have “home rule” over the project and only a local municipality has the legal right to authorize the use of their roads for such projects.

“In other words, the Town would be liable for the taking and responsible for paying the damages assessed, not Northern Pass,” said Steve Ellis, chairman of the Board of Selectman in Pittsburg, one of the towns petitioning the state, in a letter. “Northern Pass is thus shifting the burden of eminent domain — a power it does not possess — to the Towns, while arguing that the towns have no say in the matter.”

But the SEC recently dismissed their motion.

One of the best chances for towns to have more authority over utility line expansion projects was also just shot down in the Legislature. The House Committee on Municipal and County Government voted unanimously last week to kill House Bill 145. It would have prohibited high voltage transmission lines from being located in any municipality by a two-thirds vote of the entire governing body of a city or by a majority of voters in an election.

“It provides one town veto power over what the two towns on either side of it want,” State Rep. Jim Belanger, R-Hollis, told the Union Leader. “Also, it establishes home rule, and New Hampshire is not a home rule state.”

Northern Pass has called the Forest Society hypocritical for calling them to bury the transmission line, yet then file a lawsuit against them for doing that.

“As we’ve previously noted, the Forest Society has frequently demanded Northern Pass be buried, yet in this case, had filed this lawsuit to prevent its burial,” Northern Pass said in a statement. “The Forest Society has also continued to raise the false notion that the use of eminent domain is possible for Northern Pass, when state law clearly prevents it, and the project does not require its use.”

 

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