Northern Pass proposes new transmission plan

Monday, August 24, 2015

The developer of a proposed $1.4 billion electric transmission line connecting Quebec to New Hampshire has released a revised route for the project, following public opposition to earlier plans.  The new vision for the Northern Pass project would bury more of the line underground and reduce the project's overall capacity to haul power.  Will this version of the Northern Pass gain more traction?

First proposed in 2009, the Northern Pass would be a 192-mile high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line.  It would bring up to 1,000 megawatts of power from Canadian power plants into New England, running from the Canadian border to a proposed converter terminal in Franklin, New Hampshire.  From there, a new alternating current (AC) transmission line would deliver the energy to New England’s electric grid at an existing substation in Deerfield, New Hampshire. 

Since it was first proposed, the Northern Pass route has drawn criticism; the project was delayed, and despite revisions to the route public opposition remained.  Throughout the process, many comments have focused on local siting impacts, like the effect of above-ground transmission lines and poles through Franconia Notch State Park, the White Mountain National Forest, and the Appalachian Trail.  Eversource proposed running 8 miles of cable underground to reduce these impacts, but argued that undergrounding more would make the project too expensive.

But the forces motivating the Northern Pass project and other proposed HVDC lines from Canada remain strong: demand in New England and New York for electricity, and in particular for hydropower and other renewable electricity imported from Canada.

On August 18, project lead Eversource Energy announced changes to the route and scope of the project.  While the previous vision included 8 miles of underground cable to avoid visual impacts, the so-called "Forward New Hampshire Plan" now includes 60 miles of underground cable. Eversource described its revised route as striking "a balance between New Hampshire and our region’s need for a reliable new energy source and avoiding potential impacts to the state’s scenic landscapes."  At the same time, the revised proposal reduces the line's capacity from 1,200 megawatts to 1,000 megawatts, ostensibly to hold total costs at the previously estimated $1.4 billion.  The plan now includes $200 million to establish the "Forward NH Fund", a pool of money designed to support clean energy innovations, economic development, community investment, and tourism.

The Northern Pass project now faces public hearings.  Eversource is expected to file an application for site review with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee in mid-October.

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