Northeast Utilities’ (NYSE:NU) wholly owned subsidiary Northern Pass Transmission has proposed a new route for the Northern Pass transmission project, partially underground and taking into consideration concerns about potential visual impacts and property rights, in the northernmost section of the project area in New Hampshire’s North Country.
The new proposed route includes 32.25 miles of new right-of-way, and partial underground construction within developed public transportation corridors, and follows a more easterly path than the original proposal submitted in 2010, the company said on June 27.
The company said the route has been placed in order to minimize potential visual impacts, adding that Northern Pass is seeking to locate the remaining 147 miles of the 187-mile project on Northeast Utilities subsidiary Public Service of New Hampshire’s (PSNH) existing rights-of-way, where transmission and distribution lines are located today.
According to the company, the line will bring 1,200 MW of low-cost, clean energy – mainly hydropower – from Canada to New Hampshire and New England. Direct current (DC) electricity will travel from Canada to a converter terminal in Franklin, N.H., where it will be converted to alternating current (AC) electricity. The AC power will travel to an existing electric substation in Deerfield, N.H., and be distributed through the state and region.
The project is being undertaken under an agreement between Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec.
During Northeast Utilities’ 1Q13 earnings call in May, Northeast Utilities executive vice president and COO Leon Olivier said that the project’s estimated cost remained $1.2bn.
The project’s cost is now $1.4bn, according to the company’s statement.
“The increase in the cost of the project is largely the result of the decision to place a portion of the project underground,” Martin Murray, manager, media relations for PSNH/Northeast Utilities, told TransmissionHub on June 28. “The Edison Electric Institute estimates the cost of underground technology to be about five times more expensive than overhead.”
According to the company, a 2,300-foot section of underground transmission is proposed for the Route 3 crossing in Pittsburg, and a 7.50-mile section is proposed within town and state roads through portions of Stewartstown and Clarksville.
The overhead portions of the line in the North Country will be more remote, and more shielded from view due to forested buffers between the line and populated areas, the company said.
A revised design reduces structure heights from a maximum structure height of 135 feet to a most common height of between 85 and 95 feet in the White Mountain National Forest, as well as elsewhere along the DC portion of the line that runs from the Canadian border to Franklin, the company said.
Furthermore, the company has redesigned a 17-mile section of the proposed AC line located in existing rights-of-way from Franklin to Concord in an effort to reduce structure heights. The company also said that redesign reduces the most common structure heights along that section to 80 feet and means 92% of structures will be 100 feet or less, where previously 51% of structures were 100 feet or less.
Working with willing landowners in the North Country, Northern Pass was able to acquire land or easements conducive to minimizing visual impacts of the line, according to the company.
Northern Pass is not looking at the use of eminent domain, Murray said.
“We worked to purchase property or easements from willing landowners,” he said. “There were some property owners we had approached who chose not to sell us land or easements. In those cases we worked successfully on other options. We now have a viable, complete, route. The 187 miles includes 147 miles of existing rights of way, where lines exist today, about 32.2 miles of new right of way on property we own or own easements on, and about 7.5 miles of underground along State and local roadways.”
Gary Long, PSNH president and COO, said in the statement that the new, overhead portion of the route is an improvement over the original route as it features larger, isolated properties, and is located in less populated areas.
“It will be far less visible to the public,” he said. “In fact, the portion of the route requiring overhead lines placed in a new right-of-way will use 83% fewer properties than the original proposal and will be 70% less populated than the original proposal.”
Long also said that over the past two years, the company has met with landowners, citizens, key stakeholders and public officials from across New Hampshire in an effort to better understand their concerns with the original project proposal.
With the new route proposal in place, the project team plans to increase its community outreach efforts in the weeks and months ahead as the federal and state permitting processes continue, the company said.
An amendment to the Presidential Permit application will soon be filed with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), followed by a filing in 2014 with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, which oversees the state permitting process.
As part of the state permitting process, the project team will submit a visual impact assessment. In addition, DOE will undertake its own independent visual impact assessment, the company added.
Murray said the federal permitting process never halted and it continues.
“An amended application will be filed with the DOE, likely next week,” he said. “The DOE will hold the public comment period open for at last 45 days and schedule one or more public scoping meetings prior to drafting its environmental impact statement. We expect to file for a [New Hampshire] permit with the Site Evaluation Committee next year.”
The project is expected to be operational by mid-2017 and customers will not pay any of the costs associated with the project since it will be financed by its developers, according to the company.
Among benefits, the company said the project is expected to reduce New Hampshire’s annual energy costs by $20m to $35m – regional savings of $200m to $300m – by displacing more expensive fossil fuel generation sources that would otherwise be needed to meet regional demand.
The project will also reduce regional carbon emissions by up to five million tons per year, and it is expected to generate about $28m in new property taxes annually.
The project will create 1,200 New Hampshire jobs per year during its construction period, and due to the effects of lower energy costs on the economy, an additional 200 jobs will be created each year after the line is in operation.
Among the project supporters are the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce and the mayors of the cities of Berlin and Franklin, the company added.
Among other things, the company noted that the project is needed since demand in the state and region has increased steadily over the past 10 years. ISO New England predicts an increase of 17% in peak demand in the state over the next decade.
Furthermore, the region’s growing dependence on natural gas is an ongoing concern for state and federal officials who believe that a diverse energy portfolio ensures stability from economic and reliability perspectives, the company added.