Responsible Energy Action LLC (REAL) has filed a Right to Know request with the Survey Center of the University of New Hampshire, Durham. We are seeking the release of all records pertaining to the poll that the Center conducted on the Northern Pass Transmission project for the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce in February, 2014. The Nashua Chamber released the poll results on March 24, 2014, at a briefing for lawmakers that included lobbying against legislation providing for the burial of transmission lines that is currently under consideration in the state Senate.
REAL’s request for information grows out of our specific concerns over the genesis and execution of the poll’s question on burial of the Northern Pass transmission line. It is especially important for lawmakers now considering burial legislation to have full background information on how the poll was constructed and administered in order to gauge its credibility. We have reason to believe that the question related to potential burial of the line improperly inflated the cost of burial and incorrectly imputed responsibility for the excess cost to ratepayers, New Hampshire residents, and businesses:
“Some have raised concerns about the visual impact the Northern Pass transmission lines will have on New Hampshire’s landscape and recommend burying the entire transmission line. Doing so would cost roughly 5 to 10 times more than stringing the lines overhead and these expenses could be paid for by residents and businesses through their monthly electric bill.”
“Do you favor or oppose Northern Pass burying its entire transmission line or don’t you know enough about this to say?”
IF FAVOR “Would you be willing to pay more in your electricity bill to pay for it?”
Burial costs have been professionally estimated, including in testimony to the New Hampshire legislature, as comparable to or only modestly more than above-ground costs. Several HVDC projects in the New England/New York area (including Champlain-Hudson Power Express, which is substantially further advanced than Northern Pass) propose line burial. These projects demonstrate that other transmission developers – serving the same or similar markets — find burial to be financially attractive, which would clearly not be the case if it cost 500%-1000% more to build an underground line. But the poll presents the “5 to 10 times more” figure as fact when this is manifestly not the case.
Northern Pass is not a traditional “reliability” transmission line but rather a merchant (specifically, participant-funded) project. Northern Pass’s sponsors regularly tout that because the project is participant-funded, all of its costs will be paid for by Hydro-Quebec and Northeast Utilities, without any recourse to ratepayer funds. Indeed, as a regulatory matter, a participant-funded project such as Northern Pass has no legal ability to collect from ratepayers. The federal rate approval for Northern Pass is based on 100% sponsor financing, and the regional regulator, ISO-New England, does not authorize ratepayer cost recovery for “elective” transmission lines such as Northern Pass. Thus, the suggestion in the poll that costs could be passed to ratepayers is manifestly false under Northern Pass’s regulatory design.
REAL plans to share on this site relevant information it receives through the Right to Know request.