WELL-MEANING POLICYMAKERS in Massachusetts are looking north, seeing in Canadian hydropower a quick solution to the need for more green energy. But one state’s environmental solutions may be another state’s environmental nightmare, and we should all care about the whole picture – not just our own small piece – to achieve the greatest long-term impact.
There is nothing “green” about hydropower emanating from Quebec. Massive hydroelectric dam and reservoir building in Quebec has caused the inundation of millions of acres of boreal forest, destruction of entire river ecosystems, and release of mercury poison into the food chain. New reservoirs also emit large amounts of greenhouse gasses for several years after they are created.
For those of us in New Hampshire, a different form of environmental damage is threatened. In the quest to connect new hydro generation facilities in Canada with consumers in southern New England, Hydro-Quebec and Eversource Energy have proposed construction of a massive new high-voltage transmission corridor that would cut New Hampshire in half.
To fully understand the impact this would have on New Hampshire, visit the White Mountains and the Great North Woods regions of our state. Long pristine stretches of woods and mountains that run virtually unspoiled from the middle of the Granite State to Canada will be scarred. You can see what is at stake if Massachusetts goes forward with Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to turn one-third of the state’s power supply over to Canadian hydropower.
For nearly 200 miles, a path stretching wider than a football field will be home to heavy construction activities. Fully two-thirds of that distance will contain over 1,100 massive transmission towers up to 15 stories high, spaced every 800 feet. That path will despoil natural forest, state parks, scenic and cultural byways, wetlands, private land, and fish and wildlife refuges. Roads allowing construction and the massive clear-cut pathway will lead to damaging runoff. Thirty-one New Hampshire towns deeply dependent on tourism – hikers, foliage visitors, fishermen, skiers – will see the heart of their economy threatened. Who travels north to look at metal towers strung with humming wire on every hillside and valley and coursing over pastoral streams and rivers?
For five long years the people of New Hampshire have fought the effort to turn our state and its mountains into an extension cord for Massachusetts. Those leading that fight include the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Conservation Law Foundation, New Hampshire Audubon, the Sierra Club, numerous municipal and regional planning authorities, and grass roots citizen organizations.
Those groups, and their sister organizations in Massachusetts, should understand that a crucial component in stopping Northern Pass is preventing Massachusetts from outsourcing a third of its electricity market to subsidized Canadian hydropower.
Simply put, if there is no artificially created and subsidized market for Canadian hydro power, there will be no transmission lines acting as extension cords. But the converse is also true: If Massachusetts, with its deep pockets and enormous energy appetite, does approve legislation paying wildly above-market prices for power supply from Canada, it will be much more difficult to indefinitely fight off the relentless push by Hydro-Quebec and Eversource to build more transmission lines and sell the power to consumers in Massachusetts and other southern New England states.
One thing is certain, New Hampshire residents, municipalities, environmental groups, and businesses will continue to fight this disastrous project. Northern Pass requires numerous state and federal permits, most of which continue to be delayed and are subject to multi-year appeals. Strong opposition from many individuals and groups has already caused the project to suffer multiple serious delays since it was first announced in 2010.
Eversource’s plans suffered another recent setback with the announcement that siting will be delayed until at least September 2017. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has also outlined serious environmental concerns, which have the potential to create additional delays.
This means that whatever legislation Massachusetts passes, it has virtually no chance of helping the state meet its 2020 carbon emission reduction goals mandated by the Global Warming Solutions Act. This is an important point, since the 2020 mandates are a key argument used by proponents to make the case for Canadian hydropower.
For environmentalists, the damage that Northern Pass will cause – and the ongoing delays that make it unlikely that the project would have any impact by 2020 – should be enough to compel opposition to Massachusetts’ purchase of Canadian hydro.
But there are other good green reasons to oppose the project. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the rest of New England are home to some of the best minds and leading developers in the clean energy sector, particularly when it comes to solar, wind, energy efficiency, and conservation. If Massachusetts outsources a third of its electricity market to Canadian hydropower, it will permanently damage local energy innovation. Crippling the green tech market with a hydropower mandate will reduce competition and suffocate efforts to create clean energy regionally.
Imagine hiking the trails of the White Mountains and Great North Woods over the next few years and trying to bypass ongoing construction for massive transmission lines. Instead of ridge lines and tree tops, imagine that the New Hampshire forest and mountain vistas are spiked with metal towers and transmission lines. If that seems wrong, then it’s time to tell Gov. Baker and the Massachusetts Legislature to cut the cord to Canadian hydropower. Tell them we can solve green energy issues here at home and that their “current” offering is a bad deal for all of us.
Alan Robert Baker is a New Hampshire resident and attorney fighting the Northern Pass.