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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Supporters, Opponents Speak Out About Northern Pass

VPR/ Charlotte Albright

The Department of Energy got an earful Wednesday night at a  public hearing on the proposed 187-mile electric transmission line that would stretch from the Canadian border through New Hampshire. Northern Pass proponents say the $1.4 billion project will bring clean hydro-electric energy to New England while generating 1,200 new jobs.

Opponents strongly disagree.

They wore orange t-shirts and buttons and filled a  large room at the elegant Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield, New Hampshire. Since first proposed in 2010, the tall transmission towers running through some small towns and wilderness areas have generated powerful controversy. At the third in a series of four public hearings held by the US Department of Energy, more than 10 elected officials and 50  citizens spoke their minds. Brad Bailey, New Hampshire state representative from Monroe, called the project a harmful “extension cord” between Canada and Southern New England.

“This project will result in the loss of tourism dollars vital to our region, real estate values will undoubtedly plummet for many, and the planned pass will cross environmentally sensitive areas. Clearly, as you can see evidenced by the many people here, the vast majority of citizens in North New Hampshire don’t want this.” Bailey said.

For more than four hours, speakers largely echoed those concerns. Real estate brokers said the proposal is already depressing sales. Economists questioned the need for more electrical power, and portrayed the parent company, Northern Utilities, as greedy for cash.

But not everyone blasted the Northern Pass.

Some grudgingly accepted it, but only if all the transmission lines are buried, an option the company has called too expensive.

A small minority, including David Atkinson from Lancaster,  favored the plan.

“We need business investment in our region. We need the jobs, even the short term ones. Our communities need the increased tax base so that we can invest in our schools and our community infrastructure,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson noted that much of the transmission system would be placed along existing corridors or right-of-ways, and he said burying the lines could be as environmentally disruptive as running them above ground.

In addition to getting DOE approval for crossing the international border, The Northern Pass will need to clear a number of other federal and state regulatory hurdles. Some questioned whether New Hampshire has enough environmental regulations to protect its citizens from impacts of the project. Governor Maggie Hassan recently came out against it in an op ed in the Boston Globe.

But the developers say they believe it is in the public interest, and are planning to hold open houses next month. The last DOE hearing is Thursday night in Colebrook, and comments for this phase can be filed at its website until November 5.   

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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