CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Officials with the Northern Pass project plan to soon file an amended route with the federal government to begin the review process needed to build a 187-mile power transmission line moving energy from Canada into New England.
The privately financed project announced a new route last week to bring high-voltage, Canadian hydroelectric power into New England. Project officials say it takes into account concerns raised over an earlier plan, which critics feared would damage the environment, lower property values and make the state less attractive to tourists.
The $1.4 billion project entails building a line that would transmit 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydroelectric power from Hydro-Quebec into New England -- enough to serve 1.2 million homes.
Project officials expect to file an amended plan with the U.S. Department of Energy as early as Monday to trigger a process that will include considering the impact on the environment and holding public hearings. The project also needs the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee’s approval, which it will seek next year. The committee will also be undergoing a review under a law enacted last week.
The new proposed route is east of the original plan and calls for burying about 8 miles of lines along state and town roads in Stewartstown and Clarksville and under the Connecticut River.
The new proposal includes just over 32 miles of new rights of way and places the remaining 147 miles in existing rights of way where transmission and distribution lines exist today.
Gov. Maggie Hassan and others who have been critical of the project say Northern Pass still needs to do more, including burying more lines.
"Once Northern Pass formally submits their project proposal to the state, a variety of agencies would likely be involved in any review process, and that process could vary depending on the specifics of the proposal. The governor will ensure that New Hampshire undertakes a rigorous and thorough review process that provides significant opportunities for the public’s voices to be fully heard," said Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg.
The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, one of the project’s strongest critics, thought it had blocked the Northern Pass by buying conservation easements along the previously planned route. Spokesman Jack Savage said Friday that the society needs more time to study the new proposal to determine its next step and that he isn’t convinced Northern Pass has completed the necessary steps to secure its new proposed route.
"I’m getting an impression this isn’t (anything) more than a line drawn on a map," he said.
Savage said the society also is looking into the legality of the privately funded Northern Pass using rights of way acquired with ratepayer funding.
Savage questioned whether Northern Pass had gotten the approvals it needs to bury lines under the transportation corridor as proposed.
"The permission must be granted by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee as part of the permitting process," Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said.
A new law has put that committee under the microscope to review the criteria it uses to evaluate projects like Northern Pass and wind projects along some of New Hampshire’s mountain ridges.
A coalition opposed to Northern Pass -- which includes the forest society -- wants the committee to perform a more rigorous review of large transmission projects that provide power beyond what is needed in the region; consider burying the power lines or other alternatives; take into account the cumulative environmental, visual and economic impacts of multiple energy projects; give municipalities a more direct role in the permitting process; consider how the proposed projects will meet the energy needs of New Hampshire and the region; and set criteria for addressing sizable additions to the facilities.
Northern Pass Transmission LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Northeast Utilities based in Hartford, Conn. Northern Pass will recover its costs from Hydro Renewable Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Hydro-Quebec, under a transmission service agreement approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.