Last week, the N.H. Supreme Court reaffirmed the state Site Evaluation Committee’s rejection of Northern Pass, Eversource’s proposed 192-mile transmission line.
The project would have brought electricity from hydropower facilities in Quebec through New Hampshire, largely for use in Massachusetts. The panel had rejected it in February 2018 after a years-long fight between the utility (and construction unions) and environmentalists/abutters.
Eversource indicated it isn’t necessarily giving up on the project, in which it’s invested many millions of dollars already. But the unanimous ruling certainly indicates any further attempts to push the plan at the state level face an uphill battle.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts has already gone in another direction for that power, looking to the New England Clean Energy Connect project that will run through Maine. That project, however, still has to clear its own regulatory permitting. Already, opponents have been pushing back against that plan.
Worth noting is that the hydroelectric energy being produced is among the cleanest sources possible. It’s so green you could putt on it. The issue is simply moving the power to where it’s needed (or, to put it another way, where the buyers are).
There’s an old punchline, meant to be delivered in a caricatured Northern New England accent: “Yah can’t get theah from heah.” It might well be applied to energy, the vast bulk of which is not produced locally. The opposition to Northern Pass, the NED gas pipeline and other large-scale energy transmission plans reveals the real issue with the region’s energy prices: We so value our quality of life — the mountain (or ocean) views; the quiet solitude of the woods and the wildlife available throughout the forests and lakes — that we’ve been willing to pay more to keep them.
New England energy prices are the highest in the nation for a reason, and that reason, we’ve been told time and again, is infrastructure. That’s a genuine concern to energy users, such as manufacturers and other businesses. They’re paying more to be here, and could eventually decide it’s not worth it.
On the other hand, those trees, fields, streams and hills are what makes this region worth living in. And that beauty is a major draw. As opponents of Northern Pass noted endlessly, tourism is the state’s second-largest industry, and could be hurt by major energy projects. There’s also the idea, particularly concerning gas or oil pipelines, that building more infrastructure will only expand the use of fossil fuels at a time when the nation should be looking ahead to moving away from them.
The region needs energy, and it’s not going to “get there from here” — or in this case, here from there — without some form of transmission: power lines, pipelines, trucks, rail or some other mechanism.
There’s a move afoot to allow communities more say in the siting of large-scale energy projects. Locally, it gained steam from opposition to the NED pipeline, which area communities had no say in. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had the full power to approve the plan, although the state’s Public Utilities Commission could weigh in.
Communities should have more say than that, but giving them outright veto power over projects would, inevitably, lead to very few projects being built, it’s clear. What’s really needed is more public dialog regarding what types of energy, and projects, are needed, and what protections need to be put in place to ensure those along the way aren’t losing their home values or quality of life to make someone else richer.
It’s easy to find fault with a specific project. Wind farms, even solar arrays have faced as much opposition in New England as have gas pipelines. But with nuclear and coal plants shutting down, the need to import energy, or create it locally, is only going to grow.
Such projects may not be everyone’s ideal, but at some point, they need to occur. The challenge isn’t to stop them. It’s to figure out how to minimize negative impacts while allowing them.