One of the main topics occupying people’s attention here in northern New Hampshire is the Northern Pass Project. For those who haven’t heard of this, Northern Pass is a partnership between Eversource Energy and HydroQuebec whose goal is to run power lines from Canada down through New Hampshire, beginning in Pittsburg NH, which is near the top of the state and run through Northern Grafton county and the center of NH and ending up in Deerfield. The nature of this project has many people up in arms because this will consist of above ground lines on towers nearly 100 feet in height and in some instances taller. Major eyesore is one of the main complaints about this project as well as the usual concerns about environmental impact. Northern Pass proponents claim this project will add needed electricity for the regional power grid as well as create jobs and tax revenue for the state coffers.
I won’t bother to sum up all the protests about this thing, as a Google search will bring up all the arguments for and against it. The US Department of Energy recently released the draft environmental impact statement for this project. In the time honored manner of bureaucracies it is a 1000 page plus doorstop document exploring potential impact to tourism, alternate routes, and suggestions of having the lines buried rather than aboveground in exhaustive detail. Northern Pass is resistant to burying the lines as this would cost more and the underground line would only be able to carry 1000 kilowatts as opposed to 1200 kilowatts for the above ground lines.
While the negative visual impact is what you hear most about from opponents, there is a more unspoken feeling that this is just the wrong way to go for power generation. It has the flavor of projects that were done back in the mid-20th century, with its enormous scope and architectural ugliness. If this had been proposed back in the nineteen fifties when I was just a tot, it would probably have gone through with barely a hitch and only a murmur of protest.
Things are a lot different now. Those who are familiar with the concept of Peak Oil understand that as oil gets scarcer and delivery of it gets more problematic, the pressure for alternative energy sources increases. But the scale of Northern Pass reflects the outdated thinking that bigger is better without considering that it is also more expensive and harder to maintain. I can remember years ago in 1998, when a winter ice storm struck the northeast coast into Canada, downing about 1000 steel electrical pylons in Quebec and leaving millions of people without power. Repair costs went into the billions. Imagine if something like that happened now.
Another issue is security. We’ve been hearing about the possibility of cyber attacks on the power grid and terrorists targeting substations and other physical structures in a deliberate attempt to disrupt services. Then there are the usual witless vandals whose main goal is just to smash things at random without considering the consequences. Back in 2012, four young New Hampshire males (two of them juveniles) drove over to Vermont where there was a major electric transmission line running from Quebec to Massachusetts. They had themselves a little drinking party and thought it would be great fun to shoot out the insulators. The damage they did ran about 250,000 dollars just to replace what they destroyed, not including the cost of rerouting power while repairs were done.
With the risk of disaster both natural and man-made, building Northern Pass makes less and less sense. Reducing energy consumption is a far better approach that doesn’t require eyesore metal towers, just a willingness to downsize our dementedly extravagant lifestyle. Our quality of life will not suffer one iota and the quiet natural beauty that I love most about New Hampshire will remain intact.