NH Site Evaluation Committee should stand firm on Northern Pass decision

State regulators should be looking out for the public good

March 30 is the deadline for the NH Site Evaluation Committee (NHSEC) to issue a written decision regarding the Northern Pass project. The NHSEC should stand firm with their oral decision to unanimously oppose this wasteful boondoggle that would jack up electricity costs in Massachusetts, destroy pristine wilderness in New Hampshire, and cause an increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

The “participant-funded transmission line” project was first proposed in 2008 by Northeast Utilities and NSTAR (since merged and now known as Eversource Energy). There was no demonstrated need for it in 2008, and there is still no need for it today; rather it is a business decision by a private company and the Canadian government seeking profits to satisfy shareholders.

New Hampshire shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice our beautiful wilderness, our scenic vistas and our tourist revenues so a private company can satisfy its investors. It makes no sense, which is why the NHSEC denied the proposal after a mere three days of deliberations on Feb. 1.

The project is equally illogical from Massachusetts’ point of view. Massachusetts is looking for more clean energy in order to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals and replace the power provided by Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, which is slated to close next year.

But when the state, in partnership with its utilities (including Eversource), issued a request for proposal for clean energy proposals, it received 46 bids, including thousands of megawatts of new wind and solar projects not reliant on the flooded rivers and valleys of Hydro Quebec or the Canadian Maritime – a clear demonstration that Northern Pass is not necessary or required for reliability.

In fact, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson even conceded that the Northern Pass project was not the lowest-cost option.

Even more disturbing from a climate perspective is that if Massachusetts were to start purchasing power from Hydro Quebec, the current customers for that hydropower, New York and Ontario, would be forced by necessity to switch to gas power plants, thereby resulting in no net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions for the region as a whole.

When taking all of these considerations into account, the question is not “Why aren’t we building Northern Pass?” but rather “Why are we still talking about this terrible idea?”

The answer, of course, is money. (Always follow the money.)

Not only was Eversource a bidder on the Massachusetts clean energy bid, company representatives sat on the bid evaluation team. Yes – Eversource was both bidder and evaluator.

And we know Eversource is nothing if not skillful when it comes to separating ratepayers from their money. The most recent evidence is the January 2018 decision by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, chaired by a former energy industry lobbyist, to grant Eversource a return on equity of 10 percent on its capital investments. In contrast, Eversource agreed to a 9.25 percent ROE in Connecticut. This difference means Massachusetts ratepayers will be paying $15 to 20 million more per year for electricity than necessary.

For all these reasons, we urge the NHSEC to hold firm and not be swayed by the “Forward NH Fund,” the glossy television and newspaper ads, the “tourism impact studies” that somehow neglected to study specific areas or businesses along the actual route of the transmission line, the claim that “people expect to see power lines when they go on vacation,” the funny math concluding that New Hampshire ratepayers would benefit based on “forward capacity markets.”

Eversource is looking out for Eversource. New Hampshire and Massachusetts regulators should be looking out for the public good. Say no to Northern Pass, once and for all.

Emily Norton is director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter and Cathy Corkery is director of the NH Sierra Club chapter.

Categories: Opinion