CONCORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire panel has dealt another blow to a controversial hydro project, upholding on Thursday an earlier decision to deny a proposal over concerns that it would have hurt tourism and businesses in the state.
The Site Evaluation Committee unanimously voted to deny a request by Eversource to rehear the $1.6 billion, 192-mile Northern Pass transmission line project. It first voted against the project in February, which resulted in Massachusetts abandoning plans to contract with the project to fulfill its clean energy needs.
“They believed that they did not misconceive or overlook any relevant evidence in the record,” committee Chairman Martin Honigberg said of members after the voice vote.
The committee spent the day debating Eversource’s arguments for rehearing the case, including that it had overlooked positive aspects of the projects or that its failure to complete its deliberations the first time around violated its own regulations.
Members argued that Eversource had been too quick to dismiss the negative impacts, done too little to work with municipalities in the northern part of the state to come up with a solution to local concerns and that it hadn’t provided enough evidence to show how it would alleviate the negative impacts.
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, Eversource said it is offering up to $300 million in reductions to low-income and business customers in the state. It also offered to allocate $95 million from a previously announced $200 million community fund — $25 million to compensate for declining property values, $25 million for economic development and $25 million to promote tourism in affected areas. Another $20 million would fund energy efficiency programs.
After the vote, Eversource said it will continue fighting to build the project. Among its options would be appealing the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
“We intend to pursue all options for making this critical clean energy project a reality, along with the many economic and environmental benefits for New Hampshire and the region,” Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan said. “Large infrastructure projects of this scale often face challenges during the siting process, and we will continue to work with all of the stakeholders to present a project that receives New Hampshire’s approval.”
Opponents, dozens of whom were at the hearing and dressed in orange, said they were relieved but acknowledged the fight was not over.
“Eversource failed to meet its burden of proof that the proposal would not have unreasonable adverse impacts on orderly development of the region,” said Jack Savage, a spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which opposes Northern Pass.
“They failed because a credible and complete analysis of those impacts would have shown that the Northern Pass as proposed in fact would have had unreasonable adverse impacts,” he said. “Ignoring the obvious doesn’t make it go away.”
Gretchen Draper, who was at the hearing on behalf of the Pemigewasset River Local Advisory Committee and lives in New Hampton, said she expects the case to go to the state’s highest court. But she argued that the project doesn’t “deserve a second chance at all.”
“I feel like the system has worked in our favor, for the objectors and little people. The system worked for a change,” she said. “Now what we have to do is make sure the politics of the current moment don’t interfere with what has come over the past eight years. It has been a long hard fight against this.”
In March, the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said it would reverse course and terminate the earlier selection of Eversource’s Northern Pass project. The state will instead move toward an agreement with New England Clean Energy Connect, a hydropower project proposed by Central Maine Power Co. Both projects would get their hydropower from Canada.
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