EVERSOURCE ENERGY made a number of financial and construction commitments on Wednesday in a bid to convince a New Hampshire regulatory agency to void its unanimous decision against the Northern Pass transmission project.
Bill Quinlan, the president of Eversource’s New Hampshire unit, said at a press conference in Manchester that his company tried to address all of the concerns raised by the seven-member Site Evaluation Commission. He said he expects the committee to rule within 10 days on Eversource’s motion, but that doesn’t leave much time for Eversource to meet a deadline set by Massachusetts regulators.
Massachusetts has given the company until March 27 to demonstrate that its project is viable or it will move ahead with a similar project in Maine being developed by Central Maine Power. Both projects would import hydroelectricity from Quebec into New England as part of massive, multi-billion-dollar clean energy procurement.
Quinlan, who was very confident Northern Pass was going to win approval from the Site Evaluation Committee when Massachusetts awarded Eversource the contract on January 25, sounded a bit uncertain about the outcome this time. He said the first step is convincing the Site Evaluation Committee to void its earlier decision; whether that will be enough to satisfy Massachusetts or whether the committee has to fully green-light the project by March 27 is unclear.
“We’re not entirely certain what it’s going to take for Massachusetts to stick with Northern Pass, if you will, and not go to their second bidder,” Quinlan said. “But we certainly have to demonstrate progress by the 27th.”
The Site Evaluation Committee was charged with examining the 192-mile transmission project from four perspectives. The committee stopped halfway through its checklist after concluding the project was going to have a negative impact on tourism and land use. Without considering possible mitigation measures to alleviate its concerns, the committee voted 7-0 on February 1 to deny the project a permit.
Quinlan said the company was now agreeing to a total of 75 mitigation measures raised by various regulatory bodies, including several raised during the deliberations of the Site Evaluation Committee. To address the committee’s concerns about the project’s impact on tourism, Eversource committed $25 million to promote tourism and recreation in the affected areas. “This is an unprecedented amount of funds for a state the size of New Hampshire,” Quinlan said.
To address concerns about property values, the company committed $25 million to fully offset any drop in property value incurred by a property owner within 200 feet of the transmission line corridor. “We’ve never done this before,” Quinlan said.
Businesses in Franconia and Plymouth were concerned that digging up main streets to lay the transmission line would disrupt business in the downtown areas. Eversource agreed to change its construction approach; instead of digging a trench down main street, the company will dig straight down in one location and then tunnel under the street to avoid any traffic disruption. Eversource also committed $25 million for economic development in host communities.
The funding announced Wednesday by Eversource isn’t new. The money is part of a $200 million commitment to a Forward New Hampshire Fund, but the cash previously hadn’t been committed to any specific project. Eversource also agreed to use $300 million to lower energy costs for low-income residents and businesses in New Hampshire. That money will come from the sale of clean energy credits yielded by a separate transmission line operated by Hydro-Quebec, Quinlan said.
Jack Savage, a spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said none of the problems raised by the Site Evaluation Committee can be addressed by throwing money at them. “The conditions Northern Pass says they agree to today were on the table previously for the SEC to take into consideration. They simply want a do-over,” Savage said in a statement.
At the Eversource press conference, Quinlan was joined by seven business, union, and municipal officials from New Hampshire who each made the case that Northern Pass was important to the Granite State’s economic future. Quinlan said the project would yield $3 billion in benefits to New Hampshire, including thousands of jobs, $30 to $40 million a year in tax revenues, and $60 million a year in energy cost savings.
Tracy Hatch, president and CEO of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said Northern Pass is desperately needed to bring down energy costs. She said one of her members, BAE Systems, saw its electricity bill go up $2.4 million between 2014 and 2016 even though the firm’s energy usage went down 2 percent. In Texas, where the company also has operations, Hatch said BAE would have saved $3.3 million with a similar energy reduction.
Hatch and other business and labor leaders said the Site Evaluation Committee’s decision sends a negative signal about investing in New Hampshire. “We are telling businesses that it’s too expensive to do business here,” she said.
Eversource now can only wait and hope that its motion will be viewed favorably by a skeptical Site Evaluation Committee. Quinlan said the company will know in 10 days whether it has a chance of resurrecting the project, in which tens of millions of dollars has already been invested.
“If they deny our motion, then it is over for all intents and purpose,” Quinlan said.