Northern Pass is now sending out a bimonthly newsletter to property owners with PSNH easements that are targeted for use by the project. The inaugural issue came out last week. All in all, it’s more of the same from them but I thought I’d take some time and point out some of the details that we should all be aware of.
Right off the bat, they describe the project as having been proposed by Northern Pass Transmission, LLC. That may be technically true, but the fact is that this project is the brainchild of Hydro Quebec. PSNH is a willing accomplice in the land grab that HQ needs to pull off in order to get the transmission line that will allow them to sell their electricity to Southern New England.
Northern Pass LLC is the company that PSNH set up to make it look like this is not a PSNH project. Don’t be fooled – the first page of the newsletter shows the address of Northern Pass LLC as 780 North Commercial Street in Manchester. That’s the same address as the PSNH Headquarters. But wait, perhaps they simply share the same office building? OK – the PO Box for Northern Pass LLC is 330… the same PO Box as PSNH. What a coincidence.
They also assure us that the shell company set up by PSNH will pay for all of the construction. Interesting… the projected cost is $1.1B and a company that can’t even spring for its own PO Box is going to pick up the tab. Please. Hydro Quebec is paying for the construction – Northern Pass LLC is simply writing the checks.
Here again they describe the permitting process as “2 to 3 years”. That’s ridiculous – the first step of the permitting process is scoping the EIS. “Scoping”: meaning just determining what is going to go into the EIS as opposed to actually writing, reviewing, and approving the EIS itself. The scoping process alone has taken nearly 10 months already with no end in sight. To describe this as a 2 to 3 year process when the very first (and relatively simple) step has taken nearly a year is ludicrous.
Devoting a large portion of the first newsletter to vegetation management sets the stage for some unpleasant near term activities. Most of the existing ROW is not cleared to its boundaries – PSNH has cleared what is necessary to clear for the existing lines which is usually around half of the actual right of way. However, as mentioned above, the environmental review process is dragging on and setting the project behind schedule. Clearing the entire width of the existing ROW now will allow them to save time after the project is approved. Look for PSNH to strip their ROW clean over the next couple of years – they’ll call it routine maintenance but it’s Northern Pass prep work through and through.
As bad as this project is for us, it’s even worse for other folks. There are some people with easements that are too narrow for even 135 foot towers. This is where the “Benefit” of ROW expansion comes in. If these people give even more of their land to PSNH, then PSNH will only put 135 foot towers up. Otherwise, if people decide to keep their land for themselves, then they’ll just build the towers as tall as they need to. Great choice: fork over the land or we’ll put even bigger towers up. Some benefit.
We all need to keep in mind that PSNH doesn’t just want this project… they NEED it to survive. They have mismanaged their company under the protection of state mandated electric rates that are consistently among the highest in the country. They’ve spent billions on boondoggles like Seabrook and the “scrubber” at Merrimack station – the problem they have now is that the state no longer requires everyone to purchase electricity from PSNH. Nearly 40% of their largest customers have fled already and that trend is starting to spill over into their residential market. With such a large fixed cost base, PSNH has no choice but to raise the rates even higher on the customers who remain. That causes the customer exodus to accelerate resulting in more frequent and larger rate increases. It’s a death spiral for PSNH and it’s happening right now.
The Northern Pass project will allow PSNH to leverage its easements – which were granted to promote the public good by bringing reliable electricity to areas that did not have reliable electricity – as new revenue sources. They will literally be profiting off of the use of our land. The Northern Pass is as close as they are ever going to get to the “good old days” when the legislature forced people to pay them whatever they asked for. Those days are over and instead of bearing down and trying to be successful in a competitive marketplace, PSNH has simply found another way to get free money.
The Northern Pass Proposal CAN fail. By rights, it SHOULD fail. The reality is that the only way it WILL fail is if we continue to stand up to the people who are inflicting this on us and force them to back down.