Northern Pass–Weeding Through the Hype

There is a huge controversy raging in NH this year involving the Northern Pass Project.  According to the project’s web site, the Northern Pass is “a transmission project designed to deliver up to 1,200 megawatts of low-carbon, renewable energy (predominantly hydropower) from Québec to New England’s power grid.”  Despite the apparent “greenness” of this project, many people in the state (including many environmentalists) are fighting this project.

I’ve been having some difficulty separating hype from truth when talking to people and reading articles in the newspaper about this topic.  So I decided to do some additional research about it to see what I think in advance of voting on a resolution about it tomorrow on election day.

Here is the proposed path of the power line.  You can see that it goes right through Groveton, Lancaster, Lincoln, Campton, Plymouth, Ashland and Bristol.  These are towns that depend heavily on tourist dollars for their economic vitality.  And much of the argument against the project focuses on the impact of the project on tourism.  According to the project’s own web site, the towers along the project’s path will stand between 80 and 135 feet in the air.  The web site compares these towers to a typical cell phone tower, which stands 180 feet tall.  This seems to me to be an irrelevant comparison since cell phone towers are typically singular whereas the criticism of the project’s towers is that there will 140 miles of them.  These towers will run through some of the most scenic areas of the state and the fear is that this will detract from the beauty of the state, meaning that tourists will not want to vacation here anymore.

Another criticism of the project is that the electricity originates in Quebec, which means that we will be purchasing this power from Canada.  I was in a local business recently where the owner was expressing his discontent about the project with an official of the project.  I overheard him say that this project represents a “wholesale invasion of New Hampshire by Canada.”  This seems a bit overblown to me but the answer to the question of why we should buy power from Canada on the FAQ of the project seems to be a non-answer.  They say that the New England states must buy renewable energy in as cost-effective a manner as possible.  There is nothing in the answer that explains why this is the most cost-effective manner possible.  The answers in the FAQ do, however, make it very clear that we are indeed buying this electricity from Hydro-Quebec.  We are still relying on foreign energy.  This is not necessarily bad but I don’t really see how it helps New Hampshire to do so.

Another of the arguments in favor of the project is that it will create jobs in the North Country of New Hampshire.  But if you read between the lines, it’s clear that these jobs are construction jobs.  Once the transmission lines are built, those jobs disappear.  So this is a very short-term benefit with a long-term negative impact.

I have just relied on the information provided by the people involved in the Northern Pass project and they really have not convinced me that this is good for the people of New Hampshire.  I haven’t even spent any time reading the web pages of the critics of the project.  They are planning to deliver this electricity to the southern part of New Hampshire and south of that (Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island), where the largest population base is.  And yet, it seems that the largest negative impact will be on the people of northern and central New Hampshire.  How is that fair?  Unless someone comments with a compelling argument, I am going to have to vote in favor of the resolution against this project.  What do you think?

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