Northern Pass Project Meets Opposition In New Hampshire

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A proposed power transmission line through New Hampshire faces continued opposition from groups opposed to the construction of towers through undeveloped forestland. Known as the Northern Pass, the project would bring 1,200 megawatts of electricity from Quebec into Southern New England via a 180 mile transmission line.

Most of the line would run through already established rights of way. But 40 miles of it would need to be cut into northern New Hampshire forest. That possibility spurred the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests into action.

"We feel like we have a legal and ethical obligation to protect existing conservation lands, not the least of which is the White Mountains National Forest," says Jack Savage, a vice president with the Society.  His group has been acquiring conservation easements in the northern forests where the Northern Pass might be routed.  Savage thinks this effort may be enough to block the project.

"We think we can," Savage says. "In fact, [Northern Pass] made it very clear that they intended to announce a completed route by the end of 2012. When they acknowledged on Monday that they were unable to identify that route, I think it’s in large part because of the work that we’ve done."

The Northern Pass project is backed by Public Service of New Hampshire, HydroQuebec, and other utilities. A final route was supposed to be announced by the end of 2012. Just before the year ended, the project backers announced they had a plan, but didn’t release the details.

Mike Skelton, a spokesperson for the Northern Pass, struck a confident tone in an interview with VPR.

"We’ve been very successful over the last year working with willing landowners on securing a new route," Skelton told the station. "We’ve identified a new route that we believe addresses many of the concerns that have been raised thus far."

But the route has yet to be delineated. Skelton says some of the details with landowners still need to be worked out and project developers are continuing community outreach to try to drum up more support for the project.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests says it would not stand in the way of the project if the transmission lines could be buried. But developers says that’s not a financial possibility.

According to Skelton, "there’s no economic or practicable way to bury a large segment or the entirety of the project and keep it economic for the developers."

The project is already behind schedule and when a final route is officially detailed it will have to go before a New Hampshire siting review board for approval.

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