Mass. should insist on burial of NH power line

Two states should form united environmental front

AS MASSACHUSETTS WORKS to reduce reliance on carbon-generated electricity, neighboring New Hampshire is fearful of becoming a muddy doormat between Quebec and Boston. Hydro-Quebec wants to export more of its big hydro to southern New England, and Eversource desperately wants to build a new transmission line for that purpose.

There is already one overhead, 2,000-megawatt transmission line cutting a swath through New Hampshire from Quebec to Ayer, Massachusetts. There is a shovel-ready project for a 1,000 megawatt transmission line, the New England Clean Power Link from Quebec into Vermont via Lake Champlain and underground along state highways. And there is Northern Pass, a 1,090-megawatt line proposed by Eversource and Hydro-Quebec that would erect more than a thousand new towers well above treeline for 132 miles through the heart of New Hampshire.

The Appalachian Mountain Club and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests are united in our advocacy to protect New England’s natural landscapes. We are also united in our opposition to allowing Eversource to build another Hydro-Quebec overhead transmission line through New Hampshire.

As two organizations with long histories of protecting and enhancing the outdoors, we are opposed to the unnecessary adverse impacts of an overhead line. If Eversource and Hydro-Quebec would bury the Northern Pass transmission line along appropriate transportation corridors, our organizations would then withdraw our opposition.

Eversource claims the barrier to burial is the added cost of burying the entire line. But their calculations ignore the true cost of an overhead line, such as costs to the environment and to New Hampshire landowners in lost property value. New Hampshire landscapes and landowners are being asked—or coerced– to involuntarily subsidize the project.

The US Department of Energy notes in its draft Environmental Impact Statement that “the fully/extensively underground alternatives would require less vegetation removal and result in fewer impacts to archeological resources and wildlife, including protected species” and that “impacts to visual resources, tourism, recreation, and historic architectural resources would be less” and “would have a decreased risk for operational hazards such as damage from extreme weather or intentional destructive acts.”

New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services has noted the benefits of burial as compared to creating miles of new powerline right-of-way, writing that “additional consideration should be given to the burial of the section or sections of line from Canada within existing roadway corridors.”

The soonest a decision might come on Northern Pass from New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee is the fall of 2017. Depending on the outcome, either Eversource or one of the more than 100 intervenors (among them the Forest Society and the Appalachian Mountain Club) are likely to initiate an appeal that could take at least another year with an unknown outcome.  As long as Hydro-Quebec holds out for going overhead, the Northern Pass project is likely to remain in limbo—far beyond the timeframe for the Massachusetts 2020 carbon reduction mandate.

It does not have to be this way.

Massachusetts is on the cusp of finalizing legislation for an improved energy future. The strong bill passed by the Senate includes an array of provisions for making the most of local and new energy sources and transmission investments, including language to ensure that transmission projects minimize their environmental impacts. As an environmentally-conscious power purchaser, Massachusetts should insist that adverse impacts from transmission lines delivering that power be minimized through burial along roadways, including interstates.

Meet the Author

John D. Judge

President, Appalachian Mountain Club
Meet the Author

Jane A. Difley

President/Forester, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests
In the early 20th Century, with the help of Massachusetts and New Hampshire leaders, our two organizations joined forces with Massachusetts congressman John Weeks, a native of Lancaster, New Hampshire, to pass the Weeks Act that helped save the White Mountains from unsustainable logging. In doing so, we helped reverse downstream flooding of the Merrimack River that was and is vital to both states. We worked together to conserve these resources. It’s time our two states work together again toward a common environmental purpose.

John D. Judge is the president of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Jane A. Difley is the president/forester of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.