Northeast Utilities: Forest Society acreage acquisition plan will not halt Northern Pass

A conservation group’s intent to acquire land along the northern portion of Northeast Utilities‘ (NYSE:NU) Northern Pass project will not be a prohibitive obstacle to the line, a spokesperson for the utility said Aug. 21.

 The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests signed purchase-and-sale agreements with four landowners to put conservation easements on about 1,800 acres of land that likely lies within Northern Pass’ route, a spokesperson for the society said. The Forest Society on Aug. 20 said it must raise $2.5m by Oct. 31 in order to acquire the easements.

“We’re aware of what the Forest Society staff said yesterday,” Martin Murray, a spokesperson for Northeast Utilities, said. “Our view is that announcement will not halt or stop our project. The Forest Service has previously engaged in fundraising to purchase a conservation easement, supposedly to stop the project, and in an earlier case we’ve successfully worked around that obstacle.” 

Murray added that Northeast Utilities is on schedule to announce a new route for a 40-mile segment of the line north of Groveton, N.H., in the North Country, by the end of the year. Northern Pass is a 180-mile line that would be composed of 140 miles of HVDC and 40 miles of 345-kV line. It is scheduled to enter service in 4Q16, but Murray said that depending on the amount of time it takes to acquire easements, that in-service date could be moved to early 2017.

According to the Forest Society, the utility has few options in light of the society’s plans to acquire the land.

“One, to do what we’ve been urging them to do from the beginning, which is to table this particular proposal and sit down with New Hampshire and see if there is a less damaging way they can find a route through New Hampshire to transmit energy from Canada into southern New England,” Jack Savage, a spokesman for the Forest Society said. “We think there are better alternatives within reach.”

These include routing the line along existing infrastructure ROW, burying the line or coordinating with National Grid to use one of its ROWs to transport the energy. According to Murray, the latter alternative would harm more than help the cause of land conservation, as the National Grid corridor would have to be expanded to make way for Northeast Utilities’ project. However, the suggestion is moot. 

“In a corridor like that, there’s only space for so much infrastructure. That area cannot be used without additional ROW being constructed alongside. That corridor at present is fully utilized,” Murray said. “If one wanted to construct our project adjacent to it, one would need an entirely new ROW which to us doesn’t seem possible because of the areas, buildings, lands, properties adjacent to that land – there would be more impact to land than less.”

There is a study committee in New Hampshire’s legislature that is “looking at making state transportation corridors available for potential burial of transmission lines along those corridors using HVDC-like technology,” Savage said. However, Murray contended there are no existing infrastructure ROWs the company could use in the 40-mile portion of the line north of Groveton.

As of today, Northeast Utilities has no plans to talk with the Forest Society.

“Our door is always open if they’d like to talk to us about the project and their concerns,” Murray said. “We’re obviously working with due diligence to plan this project in a sensible way. They seem fairly committed to present as many obstacles to that as they can. We don’t have any plans to approach them.”


About Rosy Lum 525 Articles
Rosy Lum, Analyst for TransmissionHub, has been covering the U.S. energy industry since 2007. She began her career in energy journalism at SNL Financial, for which she established a New York news desk. She covered topics ranging from energy finance and renewable policies and incentives, to master limited partnerships and ETFs. Thereafter, she honed her energy and utility focus at the Financial Times' dealReporter, where she covered and broke oil and gas and utility mergers and acquisitions.