The GOP’s dangerous dependence on Northern Pass
It’s simply not a good deal for New Hampshire
So far in 2017, New Hampshire’s Republican leaders have followed a clear pro-Northern Pass agenda. As a conservative Republican who has worked on energy issues and projects for over 20 years, this is disappointing but predictable.
Some of the same tired arguments made for Northern Pass were made during the Seabrook Nuclear I and II push in the 1980s. The results weren’t pretty then, and they won’t be now. Like Seabrook, Northern Pass is being hailed and promoted as the answer to our energy “problems.” In the 1980s that idea ended in the bankruptcy of PSNH — now renamed Eversource.
This time at least, Eversource promises that New Hampshire ratepayers won’t be on the hook for Northern Pass if the project doesn’t live up to all the economic hype. However, even that Eversource claim is under a cloud now that Hydro-Quebec has said very clearly in its own words that it “won’t pay a single penny” for Northern Pass on our side of the border.
It’s not always wrong to be for something, but it is always risky to have all your eggs in one Eversource basket. True electric supply competition is the key to driving down energy prices, and that doesn’t mean requiring electric ratepayers to pay for capacity in gas pipelines either.
The proposed Northern Pass transmission line from Quebec to its Deerfield interconnection, is to carry 1,090 megawatts of hydropower through New Hampshire, of which only 100 MW would come back to our state in the form of a power purchase agreement, the terms of which remain unknown to the public.
The current peak demand load on our New Hampshire grid is approximately 3000 MW, so the alleged 100 MW New Hampshire would receive from Northern Pass comprises roughly 3.5 percent of our peak load requirements.
Given this fact, we have to ask: Is the high cost of Northern Pass — the risk to ratepayers and threats to our environment, natural beauty and tourism economy — worth such a small return?
As of January 2016, there were 11 proposed transmission projects competing to connect to the ISO-NE grid totaling more than 7,000 MW of potential capacity. Simply put, the addition of 100 MW of new hydropower supply from Northern Pass to New Hampshire is not going to fix the high cost of energy in New Hampshire, given how small the size of the new supply would be compared to the total New Hampshire load, coupled with the certainty that Northern Pass will be expensive to build and you can bet Eversource will find someone else to pay for it.
I can understand why Eversource wants to build Northern Pass – it’s a good deal for them, especially when their transmission line investments are projected to account for more than 50 percent of their total earnings-per-share growth through 2020, while their transmission assets will rise to be 42 percent of their total rate base by 2020, per their latest Q4 investor call.
I simply can’t agree that Northern Pass is a good deal for New Hampshire. Given the recent UNH survey showing a 16-point drop in public support for Northern Pass over the last year, it seems more and more Granite Staters are starting to come around.
Ignoring or minimizing other energy options to bet the farm on a risky proposition like Northern Pass may cost Republicans a lot of votes in 2018 and 2020. As we know, it doesn’t take a lot of swing votes to switch control of who governs the state. There is no shame in learning when to pivot to a broader vision. That time is now.
Harold Turner, a business owner from Concord, is chair of the Granite Institute, a free-market think tank.