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Northern Pass

I am the only candidate for Governor who is 100% opposed to Northern Pass. I have been engaged on this important issue since it first came to prominence in 2011. Here is a guest editorial I wrote, published in the Portsmouth Herald on July 24th, 2011, enumerating the reasons I opposed the project.

Six years later, I remain opposed for reasons both personal and policy in nature. Although I was born and raised in the Manchester area, much of my family either lives in Quebec (where both of my parents were born), or lives in the Great North Woods of northern New Hampshire. Growing up, we visited family in Pittsburg and West Stewartstown regularly. The natural beauty and resources of the region are its greatest assets, and this project has threatened it. In addition, the people of the area have said clearly over many years that they do not want this project in their community – through protests and the ballot box.

As personal as this is, however, my opposition stems at least as much from my policy concerns. For those who are unaware, Northern Pass I s a proposed project between Northeast Utilities (which owns Eversource) and Massachusetts NStar. They are planning to build a billion-dollar high voltage line through New Hampshire. They would then lease the line to Hydro-Quebec, who would then theoretically sell its electricity to the regional power pool.

While revised proposals for this project seek to increase the percentage of the line that is buried, it has been repeatedly stated that it cannot be fully buried, or else the project would no longer be financially viable for investors. Let us be clear: The Northern Pass project will only happen if at least part of it includes high-voltage towers above ground.

If this is not enough reason to oppose the project, consider these additional problems I have with the project:

1) It will not generate additional local property tax revenue for towns – if anything, it will harm property values. While proponents of the Northern Pass project say the poles and wires represent new property tax revenue for impacted communities, this represents only a small piece of the impact. Every private residence impacted either directly (going through their property) or indirectly (impacting their view or desirability) sees its property value diminished. Eversource’s own appraisal back in 2011 showed properties would diminish in value. This project is more likely to depress existing property values, and future development, by a greater amount than any new taxable property will generate revenues.

2) It will not generate long-term new jobs. Proponents claim up to 1,200 temporary jobs will be created from this project. Once the project is finished, though, virtually all of those jobs are, too. And once the line is constructed, the ability of local governments to fund existing local public sector jobs (teachers, public safety, public works) will be diminished – costing some number of long-term existing jobs. As for tourism-related jobs, it is universally understood that this project will not enhance tourism in the North Country.

3) It will not lower residents’ or businesses’ electric bills. The proposed line would bring about 1,200 megawatts of electricity to New England – a significant amount of additional supply. In theory, increased supply should mean lower prices for consumers across New England. There are several big problems with this, though. First, New England does not have a supply problem. We are currently using less electricity than we are capable of generating, and the wholesale prices for electricity are at their lowest levels in 13 years. Adding supply – even large-scale supply like Northern Pass – will drop prices very little. Second, much of the electricity that Northern Pass would generate will never be consumed by New Hampshire residents. This is because Northeast Utilities and NStar will purchase these megawatts from Hydro Quebec to satisfy customers in southern New England – making customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut more likely to enjoy some rate reduction. In effect, this project would use New Hampshire as the equivalent of a power superhighway with no exit ramps.

4) There is an alternative path to lower rates substantially, without the negative impacts of Northern Pass. I believe it is not enough in 2018 to simply identify where the darkness is – we must be the light that can push out the darkness. Please refer to my page on energy and environmental policy for more details, but perhaps the best infrastructure investment we can make as a state is in upgrading our electric grid. This would allow our state and region to lower the “peak demand” (usually the hottest and coldest days of the year), which drives capacity and pricing. It would also allow local renewable sources, such as wind and solar, to easily plug into the grid in real time, making them more economically viable without public subsidy. We can lower electric rates by 15% or more without Northern Pass or large natural gas pipelines in southwestern New Hampshire – if we modernize our electric grid.