Northern Pass opponents celebrate win

Published: Feb. 6, 2018 at 3:15 PM EST
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Northern Pass opponents in New Hampshire's north country are continuing to cheer a recent vote that, for at least the time being, blocks the powerline project.

Behind Walter Palmer's farmhouse in Franconia, New Hampshire, beef cows chow down on hay. In front of the 170-acre property, anti-Northern Pass signs dot the lawn.

"The underground portion of the project was proposed to go directly through the middle of my farm," Palmer said.

Palmer is a member of the coalition, from Bethlehem to Plymouth, and has spoken out against Northern Pass for years.

The project aims to build nearly 200 miles of transmission lines across New Hampshire--from Pittsburg to Deerfield. The $1.6 billion dollar plan would bring hydropower from Canada to southern New England, providing electricity for about a million homes. The majority of the transmission lines would be built on existing right of ways. The rest would be buried.

"My biggest concern frankly was my aquifer. I use my aquifer to water my cattle and sheep and other livestock on my farm, and as drinking water," Palmer said.

The project was approved by the Department of Energy and the National Forest. Some of the lines would cut through the White Mountains in the Franconia area. But last week, New Hampshire's Site Evaluation Committee voted 7-0 against it, citing concerns about its economic impact.

"And that is a whole slew of economic criteria which include impact on property values, impact on tourism, impact on jobs," Palmer said.

The no vote came as a shock to both Eversource, the power company behind Northern Pass, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. In a statement Sununu said, "To deny 1100MW of clean, renewable energy and more than 1,000 jobs for New Hampshire is a mistake."

"You know, with all the money involved, and the political pressure and the governor supporting it, I was very pleasantly surprised," said Russell Cumbee, who lives just down the road from Palmer and also opposes the project. Northern Pass would go directly through the middle of this tourist-friendly town. "At some level it just astounded me that anyone could come up with this idea -- that they would desecrate northern New Hampshire for the purpose of selling energy down in Massachusetts."

But not everyone in this region is adamantly against the project. "It is no different than what we have now coming from Massachusetts. The dams, the lines, and everything else," said Jim Pelletier, who commutes to Franconia from Littleton. "The jobs are the biggest thing around here. There are no jobs. You look at people in Berlin, Groveton -- if this creates some sort of happen for the economy, I am all for it."

Eversource officials in a statement said that the no vote failed to comply with New Hampshire law, and as a result put $3 billion of job, tax, and other benefits in jeopardy.

"Clearly, the SEC process is broken and this decision sends a chilling message to any energy project contemplating development in the Granite State. We will be seeking reconsideration of the SEC's decision, as well as reviewing all options for moving this critical clean energy project forward."

But for these two Franconia opponents, the big bucks they were up against are another reason to smile. "We should all be celebrating what I see as a David and Goliath moment," Cumbee said.

"It demonstrates that the New Hampshire decision making process works," Palmer said.