Wednesday February 13, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire businesses are opposing a series of bills aimed at slowing down or stopping construction of a 180-mile, high-voltage power line originating in northern New Hampshire as an unfair change in regulations.

The privately funded Northern Pass project to build the line that would transmit 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydroelectric power into New England, but it has run into strong opposition. Critics argue the power line’s towers along the route -- especially in the North Country -- would rise above the trees and would damage New Hampshire’s environment, lower property values and make the state less attractive to tourists.

Supporters argue the power would reduce the need for electricity from fossil fuel sources that produce carbon emissions and would provide property tax revenue from Northern Pass facilities to the communities the line passes through and would provide jobs to New Hampshire.

The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee held hearings Tuesday on five related bills that would affect Northern Pass and similar projects, such as requiring them to bury their power lines despite objections from supporters who contend that such a move would quadruple the project’s estimated $1.2 billion cost. Lawmakers also are considering placing a moratorium on such projects.

Franklin City Manager Elizabeth Dragon objected that the bills were clearly intended to stall or kill Northern Pass.


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Franklin would gain jobs and property tax revenue from the construction of a Northern Pass facility to convert the high-voltage Canadian power to lower voltage power. Dragon argued the entire state would benefit as well.

"This project is too important to be decided by who has the largest political muscle," said Dragon, who opposed the bills. "Let the process play out."

Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, told a House committee Tuesday that companies do not like it when government singles out a project to use in creating public policy.

He said companies locate in New Hampshire expecting to be treated by the rules in place at the time.

"Legislation like this hijacks that process," Williams said.

Thomas Colgan, president of Wagner Forest Management, said his company would be reluctant to invest in projects in New Hampshire if the rules are changed through bills crafted with a specific project in mind.

"There are always unintended consequences," said Colgan of Lyme.

But Susan Arnold, speaking for a coalition of environmental groups, argued New Hampshire’s law does not give the site evaluation committee -- which is charged with evaluating projects like Northern Pass -- enough authority to look at alternatives that might be better for the state and the public. She urged lawmakers to consolidate the ideas behind the bills into one bill and pass it this session.

"The issues should not be deferred to further study in the hope of addressing them in a future year or session," she said.

Arnold insisted the existing process is inadequate.

Arnold said a comprehensive reform bill should be passed that increases the site evaluation committee’s power: to perform a more rigorous review of large transmission projects that are for power beyond what is needed in the region; to consider burying the power lines or other alternatives; to take into account the cumulative environmental, visual and economic impacts of multiple energy projects; to give municipalities a more direct role in the permitting process; to consider how the proposed projects will meet New Hampshire’s energy needs as well as the region’s; and to set criteria for addressing sizeable additions to the facilities.