The Travails of Northern Pass

Yes, it’s Northern Pass rant and rave time again. It’s been a while since I posted anything about the project nearly everyone here in northern New Hampshire heartily loathes. I won’t go into the gory details of the project as there is plenty of info both pro and con to be found with just a little Google search. But it’s worth taking a look at the current status of the project and some recent developments to see that the road Northern Pass is going down is starting to get more than a bit rocky.

To hear it from the boosters for this project (which unfortunately includes our current governor) the power that Northern Pass would transmit would provide millions of dollars in energy cost savings, revenue for local tax revenues and generate jobs, etc, etc. Governor Sununu believes the project will be a ‘win-win’ situation for New Hampshire (buyers of inexpensive antique bridges in Brooklyn take note). Les Otten, the developer for the Balsams Resort, has accepted 5 million dollars in loans from the Northern Pass project though he insists the money has nothing to do with his enthusiasm for the project.

Many residents in Northern New Hampshire are having none of this, however. The idea of a butt-ugly line of 10 stories tall electrical pylons marching through the countryside (it’s still largely rural up here) has raised ire on many sides. Attempts to get Eversource and Hydro_Quebec to at least bury the lines has been met with stubborn resistance from the corporations, the main argument being it would be too expensive.

Over the past month, some interesting news has come to light. A story surfaced in early March stating that questions were beginning to arise over who was going to actually pay the cost for the NP project. This arose out of a report in the Quebec press stating that Hydro-Quebec was abandoning Northern Pass. Hydro was quick to state it had no intention of dropping NP but did say that they were not footing the bill for the line going through New Hampshire and Massachusetts rate payers would be paying the tab. If that’s the case, it’s likely to go over like the proverbial lead balloon with our neighbors to the south.

A week later NP attorneys approached the attorney for the intervenor towns of Easton, Sugar Hill and Franconia inviting them to name their conditions if the state approves the project. This was immediately shot down by the Easton selectmen stating that since they don’t want the project going through their area there aren’t going to be any conditions. The selectmen in Sugar Hill also refused the idea of any conditions, being of the opinion (likely well justified) that this would give Eversource and Hydro-Quebec the idea they can push them around.

One possible reason for the sudden confusion over who pays for what may stem from the fact that HQ and Eversource may not have renewed its Transmission Service Agreement (TSA) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a critical omission if true as the TSA would indicate how Eversource will be paid for building the line. Perhaps scenting blood in the water, another utility company, National Grid, has popped up saying it has a project of its own in mind that would take an alternate route than Northern Pass providing renewable power from Canada into New England.

The underlying issue behind all this sturm und drang is what are we going to do about the extravagant use of electricity not just here in New England but basically everywhere electricity is made use of. The increasingly frantic effort to continue living in the style to which we have become accustomed for so long is becoming more evident with each passing year. An enormous price tag comes attached to all the infrastructure that makes the lights come on when you flick that switch on the wall or press the on-button for your tv or stereo. Hydro-Quebec touts its electrical generation as being ‘renewable’ but ignores the fact that all this renewability is based on non-renewable materials; concrete, turbines, generators, power lines all of which have to be created and maintained. Cheap petroleum made all this achievable back in the 20th century but as oil supplies dwindle and become more expensive to extract and refine, all of the products it gives rise to, are becoming more expensive as well. As the 21st century has gotten underway, a painful wakeup call has begun.

Resistance to this wake-up call is intense. Like anyone having a wild party, nobody likes to be told that they are drinking too much and there’s going to be a nasty hangover the next day, not to mention a big mess to clean up. Partyers just want to keep on partying. Unfortunately it’s no longer possible to do this. Resource shortages are going to increase both in the near and far future. There’s simply no way to avoid it. So what to do? Archdruid John Michael Greer suggested in a posting several years ago to ‘collapse now and avoid the rush’.

The idea behind this is to start voluntarily reducing our energy consumption along with our incessant demand for more and more ‘things’ and begin living in a manner more in keeping with the low energy outputs, and diminished resources that we are going to have to accept as the norm in the future, preferably before circumstances force us to make the change. Yes, it means a slower pace to life and a simpler one. No, it does not mean we are going back to living in caves. The web site Low Tech Magazine frequently publishes articles highlighting a surprising variety of ways to accomplish tasks using simpler more sustainable (and maintainable) technologies. The ingenuity behind these low tech solutions is surprising and heartening.

Compare this with Northern Pass’s heavy-handed corporate politicking and Brobdingnagian technology being touted as the latest and greatest solution to our energy woes. In all likelihood, even if it gets approved, there will still be a fierce fight in store for Eversource attempting to get it built. People are growing more skeptical but what it will take to make us to come to our senses and reject these types of outmoded energy ‘solutions’ is anyone’s guess. As Winston Churchill is said to have remarked; “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”