FAQ: What is Northern Pass?

Here’s the project overview as the Northern Pass presents it:

“The Northern Pass transmission project will create a new connection between Hydro-Québec’s world-class hydroelectric resources and the New England power pool that supplies electricity to all customers in the region–including New Hampshire.  The heart of this project is the construction of a direct current (DC) transmission line that will bring up to 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power into the region, providing much-needed fuel diversity, lowering energy costs, and lessening our reliance on fossil fuels. Along with the construction of the DC line, the project will include the construction of a converter terminal in Franklin, NH to convert the electricity from direct current to alternating current (AC), as well as the construction of a new AC transmission line from the converter terminal to an existing substation in Deerfield, NH.” 

That reads nicely and sounds responsible at first glance, but here are some key facts Northern Pass omitted from the project overview:

  • The proposed transmission lines would be massive in scale, running 45 miles through Canada and then 180 to 200 miles (depending on the final route chosen) from Pittsburg, New Hampshire, at the Canadian border, all the way down the state to Deerfield.
  • It would parallel and duplicate an existing HVDC transmission corridor running from the same location in Canada to Massachusetts.  This existing HVDC corridor was built more than 20 years ago and it runs through northeastern Vermont crossing the Connecticut River west of Littleton and then continues south through New Hampshire on the west side of the state carrying 2000 MW of power from Hydro-Quebec into Massachusetts.
  • Rather than the modern approach of burying the lines, Northern Pass would use the old technology of above-ground transmission lines with towers 90′ to 135′ (or higher), which are visually jarring and which destroy property values.  Depending on the final route proposed, it would involve the construction of roads, infrastructure and concrete footings for approximately 1,100 new steel lattice towers and monopoles.  It would also involve the reconstruction of existing high voltage transmission lines with relocated and higher towers in highly congested corridors—including those passing through the White Mountain National Forest and other important recreational areas and suburban neighborhoods in central and southern New Hampshire.
  • Two other similar transmission line proposals in the New England/New York area are taking the opposite approach to Northern Pass.  Those projects seek to minimize adverse impacts and property rights issues. Champlain-Hudson Power Express and Northeast Energy Link have proposed buried transmission lines located along highway and railroad rights of way.
  • The proposed route would require a new cleared swath of land (a right of way) running through 40+ miles of pristine, largely undisturbed northern Coos County , crossing the Connecticut River and the watershed of its major northern tributaries on the New Hampshire side including, Halls Stream, the Mohawk River, and the Upper Ammonoosuc River.  The proposed route would also cross two of our federally designated scenic and cultural highways:  Route 3 at the Connecticut River on the Pittsburg/Clarksville town line; and Route 145 near the height of land on the south side of Ben Young Hill in Clarksville.
  • The original route proposed through northern Coos County ran generally north to south through Stewartstown, Colebrook, Columbia, Stratford and Northumberland to the Lost Nation area in Groveton.  A new, more circuitous route is now being sought by Northern Pass through Northern Coos County running west to east, north to south and then east to west.  That newer likely new route will be addressed below.
  • From Groveton on south, much of the proposed route follows an existing right of way (ROW) used by Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH). Many portions of this existing ROW are not adequate for the proposed Northern Pass lines due to narrow width, height limits or other legal restrictions.
  • The proposed route would also cross the Israel River and the Ammonoosuc River, both major Connecticut River tributaries, substantially expanding the use of existing transmission line rights of way and causing major disturbances in sensitive wetland areas.
  • The transmission lines would also run directly through the White Mountain National Forest and cross the Appalachian Trail including highly sensitive wetlands and bogs in the area of the Kinsman Mountains.   Along the Appalachian Trail, it would be located approximately 1500 feet from the Eliza Brook Shelter; and it would dominate the view from the trail on Mount Wolf and South Kinsman Mountain, as well as many other vantage points.
  • The power transmitted over the lines is intended to meet demand in southern New England. The electricity is not needed in New Hampshire, which produces substantially more power than the state uses.  Because of this, the Northern Pass has often been referred to as Hydro-Quebec’s extension cord to southern New England.
  • The project was not been requested by any federal, regional or state regulator, and it is not needed as an upgrade to the transmission system.
  • Northern Pass is a private, for-profit business proposal by Hydro-Quebec and Northeast Utilities (including its subsidiary PSNH). They see a profit opportunity in delivering excess Hydro-Quebec power into New England.  The project financial structure documents filed with, and approved at, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission state that Northeast Utilities will be entitled to an approximate 12.5% return on equity – which translates to a profit of $68 million per year for the life of the transmission line -20 to 40 years.  In addition to paying this rate of return, Hydro-Quebec guarantees that Northeast Utilities will be repaid its entire investment in the project.  If you follow the money and control mechanisms in the regulatory filings, this project will be paid for by Hydro-Quebec; and the use of the transmission line will be controlled by Hydro Quebec.  In other words, the developer is really Hydro-Quebec.
  • Hydro-Quebec is a crown corporation wholly owned by the Province of Quebec.  It is a foreign state-owned monopoly producing power and controlling the transmission and distribution of power in Quebec.  It also exports power to New England and Ontario and imports power as well when the pricing is advantageous.
  • Northern Pass does not own the land or land rights it needs for the project, including those necessary to expand the existing PSNH ROW. Landowners up and down the state are strongly opposed to Northern Pass.  In 2012 the NH legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a bill that prohibits the use of eminent domain for private transmission projects like Northern Pass.  The Northern Pass proponents objected strenuously to this bill because they originally intended to use the threat of eminent domain to leverage the acquisition of land necessary for the project and to use the eminent domain procedure itself to acquire the land of those unwilling to sell.  Northern Pass is now trying to buy its way through Northern Coos County using a new route that it believes it may have the ability to purchase.

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