Hooksett, NH –The Northern Pass project, a proposed transmission line carrying low-cost renewable hydroelectric power to New Hampshire and New England, recently proposed an improved route in the northernmost section of the project area. The $1.4 billion project is subject to a comprehensive state and federal public permitting process and is expected to be operational by mid–2017. Customers will not pay any of the costs associated with the project as it will be financed by its developers.
The new proposal includes an improved route, partially underground, through New Hampshire’s north country, and was developed in response to concerns about potential visual impacts and property rights. “Over the past two years, we’ve met with landowners, citizens, key stakeholders, and public officials from across New Hampshire in an effort to better understand their concerns with our original proposal,” said Gary Long, president and COO of Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), a subsidiary of the project’s parent company, Northeast Utilities. “We have worked hard to develop a new proposal that is better for New Hampshire and responsive to feedback we’ve received.”
With the new route proposal in place, the project team plans to increase its community outreach efforts in the weeks and months ahead as the federal and state permitting processes continue in earnest.
An amendment to the Presidential Permit application will soon be filed with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), followed by a filing in 2014 with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, which oversees the rigorous state permitting process.
The new proposed North Country route includes 32.25 miles of new right-of-way, and partial underground construction within developed public transportation corridors, and follows a more easterly path than the original proposal submitted in 2010. The route has been strategically placed in order to minimize potential visual impacts. Northern Pass is seeking to locate the remaining 147 miles of the 187-mile project on PSNH’s existing rights-of-way, where transmission and distribution lines are located today.
The overhead portions of the line in the North Country will be more remote, and more shielded from view by taking advantage of forested buffers between the line and populated areas. And, as part of ongoing efforts to refine and improve the project, a revised design reduces structure heights from a maximum structure height of 135 feet to a most common height of between 85 to 95 feet in the White Mountain National Forest, as well as elsewhere along the direct current portion of the line that runs from the Canadian border to Franklin. Moreover, the project has also redesigned a 17-mile section of the proposed alternating current line located in existing rights-of-way from Franklin to Concord in an effort to reduce structure heights. This redesign reduces the most common structure heights along this section to 80 feet and means 92 percent of structures will be 100 feet or less, where previously only 51 percent of structures were 100 feet or less.
Working with willing landowners in the North Country, the project was able to acquire land or easements conducive to minimizing visual impacts of the line. “The new, overhead portion of the route is an improvement over the original route because it features much larger, isolated properties, and is located in less populated areas,” Long noted. “It will be far less visible to the public. In fact, the portion of the route requiring overhead lines placed in a new right-of-way will use 83% fewer properties than the original proposal and will be 70% less populated than the original proposal.”
As part of the New Hampshire permitting process, the project team will submit a visual impact assessment. In addition, the U.S. DOE will undertake its own independent visual impact assessment.
The new North Country route includes two sections of underground construction. A 2,300 foot section of underground is proposed for the Route 3 crossing in Pittsburg, and a 7.50-mile section is proposed within town and state roads through portions of Stewartstown and Clarksville. The project plans to make these major investments in underground construction in order to address public feedback while completing a vastly improved route in the North Country.
The project is expected to reduce New Hampshire’s annual energy costs by $20 to $35 million (regional savings of $200 to $300 million) by displacing costlier fossil fuel generation sources that would otherwise be needed to meet regional demand. The environmental benefits will also be significant, since the project will reduce regional carbon emissions by up to five million tons per year—equivalent to eliminating the annual emissions of nearly 900,000 cars. That is about 200,000 more cars than are currently registered in New Hampshire
An additional key benefit of the project is the significant tax impact it will have on local communities, as the project is expected to generate about $28 million in new property taxes annually. The final design and cost of the project will drive the actual taxes, and the project team will work with local communities to provide them with accurate information on what revenue they can each expect from the project.
The project will soon submit an amended application to the U.S. DOE that will explain the new route and continue the rigorous federal review process, including opportunities for public input. In 2014, a permit application will be filed with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee which will initiate a separate permitting process with further opportunities for public input.