REAL looks at the Northern Pass V-String “Discovery”
For close to two years now, Northern Pass has been chanting its “90 to 135 feet” mantra to the public when discussing the height of the towers required to suspend transmission lines carrying 1200 MW of electricity through New Hampshire on its way to southern New England. We know that private planning for this project started at least two years before the public announcement. So they’ve had four years to study this issue. And during that time, Northeast Utilities’s and Hydro Quebec’s engineers have had ample opportunity to calculate the minimum required distance between transmission lines and the ground as well as the minimum required distance between the transmission lines on the towers. It’s safe to assume that they checked and double checked their computations and that the result was always “90 to 135 feet.” It had to be – they told us so, again and again.
It’s also safe to assume that during this time, Northeast Utilities’s and Hydro Quebec’s engineers had access to state-of-the-art transmission systems designs. They must also have had access to the latest research, industry trends, and best practices – these are multi-billion dollar corporations after all. And still, with all of that knowledge and expertise, the result remained “90 to 135 feet.” It had to be – they told us so, again and again.
And then, quite recently, something changed.
The laws of physics haven’t changed, so that can’t be it. The guidelines and regulations around High Voltage transmission lines haven’t changed, so that can’t be it. Hence, our question: what new advancement in power line transmission occurred in just the last several weeks that would cause these companies to admit that their calculations were wrong for years?
According to Northern Pass public statements this week, the answer is, “The V String transmission tower configuration.” With this new advance in transmission tower design, Northern Pass engineers were able to reduce the tower height estimate to a firm “85 feet.” With all the fanfare surrounding their announcement, it would be easy to lose sight of one very simple fact: V-String is not new. Literature advocating the use of V-String can be found dating back to 2003 – nearly a decade ago. V-String has appeared in proposals for large scale transmission projects like this one for years. In fact, V-String is used for the DC towers built by Hydro Quebec in western New Hampshire. How could all of the engineers in not one but two multi billion dollar energy companies have missed such an obvious alternative design? All Northern Pass had to do was to drive over to Warren or Bath or Haverhill and have a look.
What changed was not a technical breakthrough; what changed was the realization at Northern Pass Headquarters that their project’s ship is sinking and they need to start bailing fast to have any hope of saving it. Their promises of a new route remain unfulfilled nearly two years after the initial public announcement. Their promises to investors are regarded with skepticism on Wall Street. The deceptive tactics that they have used to hide the real impacts (and real lack of benefits to New Hampshire) from this project have left them with almost no credibility anywhere in the state. In short, this project needed some good news to counter the tidal wave of opposition to it.
REAL believes that this V-String “discovery” is nothing more than pre-planned theatre and that Northern Pass entered into its negotiation with the citizens of New Hampshire holding many concessions back in order to use them later on in order to appear to be “cooperating” or “listening.” This is exactly what happened early on in the project with the original “Alternate Routes” – Northern Pass took those routes off the table under the guise of “listening to the public.” However Gary Long later admitted that they “never had a keen interest” in using them in the first place. And so it is with the 135’ towers – they never seriously considered using them either. By working late into the night and “discovering” decade old technology they want everyone to see how trustworthy and compassionate they are.
REAL believes this episode calls into question, once again, Northern Pass’s good faith and environmental sensitivity. At each step of the way, the project sponsors appear to be calculating the most minimal possible step that may potentially satisfy some level of immediate concerns, rather than engaging in a full, open, give-and-take dialog with all stakeholders about the costs, benefits and alternatives. V-Strings can come and go, but until Northern Pass fundamentally changes its attitude and approach there can be no real progress.