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Thread: Northern Pass approved

  1. #1
    Senior Member jjmcgo's Avatar
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  2. #2
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    Pending approval of the State of NH SEC in the spring as it has always been.

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    Senior Member roadtripper's Avatar
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    This is what happens when you vote republican. It hasn’t always been that way but that’s how it seems to be now. This forum is no place for politics but conservation is something all voters should be factoring in.

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    Moderator David Metsky's Avatar
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    Moderator Note
    Quote Originally Posted by roadtripper View Post
    This forum is no place for politics
    You should have stopped there. Do not post political comments in this forum.
    You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose. -- Dr. Seuss

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    The fundamental concept of NP which is to have a large stored reserve of non fossil derived power available when needed is sound it is just the devil is in the details. National politics really haven't played a part in this particular project. Like many big issues unfortunately the project as proposed is not black and white. The current reality is that the vast majority of electric power used on the grid has to be generated exactly when it is needed. Most consumers and industries want power when they flip the switch and that demand varies minute by minute. Unfortunately most power plants or their fuel supply systems don’t deal well with varying demand so the choice is supplement large generation plants that run at one large load all the time with many smaller less efficient generators or put in large scale electrical storage. Natural gas generation can be pretty flexible and efficient but New England has effectively decided to limit access to peak gas capacity by refusing to install additional pipe line capacity. There is limited natural gas storage/capacity in the region so eventually it comes down to heating homes or generating power with the volume of gas available in the pipe line. Despite the hype, electrochemical storage is currently quite costly and it typically has its own hidden environmental costs related to sourcing the materials used to build the storage. In New England, that pretty well leaves ponded hydroelectric storage as the only economically viable game in town to be able to rapidly generate power when needed to deal with peaks in power demand.

    New England is also embarking on an experiment where the vast majority of electric power will be shipped into the region from long distances away. Until a few years ago there were several nuclear power plants in the region and they could provide a large amount of power to the region but with the loss of Wiscasset 20 years ago, Vermont Yankee three years ago and the soon to be shut down Pilgrim Plant in Mass in 3 years, the only remaining nuclear plants will be Seabrook and Millstone in CT. There have also been several large coal power plant closures including Brayton Point in Mass and it is expected the NH coal plants will be gone in three years or less. In general unlike the past, the region is going to be dependent on long large potentially vulnerable electric transmissions lines bringing power to the area with inadequate local backup.
    New England long ago made the decision that it was acceptable to flood large areas of generally rural land displacing remnant aboriginal populations and generally poor residents in Maine in order to provide electricity to more affluent developed areas. The most obvious one of these are Flagstaff Lake. There are environmental costs associated with those decisions along with benefits. Run of the river hydroelectric power is generally regarded as “green” but the near extinction of the Atlantic salmon and many other less photogenic anadromous fish is a significant consequence of damming rivers for hydroelectric power. Contrary to popular belief there are few run of the river hydro plants in the region, most are fed at least partially by upstream ponded storage. If anything, New England is ripping out hydroelectric dams, the biggest being the recent removals on the Penobscot along with a high profile removal on the Kennebec and Presumpscot. The rational for these removals have been predominantly environmental, effectively attempting to restore what was damaged when the dam went in. This sort of degradation is what the Hydro Quebec (HQ) owners are inflicting on their rivers with their projects, it is just that the damages are “not in my backyard” to New England.

    Combine the two big drivers, a variable power demand and a deficit in baseload generation for New England and Canadian hydro is the easy decision. HQ has effectively guaranteed New England as much power as it needs or can afford. HQ has easy access to a land area larger than New England via provincially controlled crown lands. Much of the area is sparsely settled by aboriginals and HQ who previously treated the aboriginals poorly have figured out a way to buy the majority off although a vocal minority remain and occasionally pop up in the media. The province is effectively a partner with HQ and they to date have been willing to heavily degrade large watersheds to allow ponded storage. There are expected significant global warming issues with ponded storage especially in boreal forests but current carbon accounting does not take this into account so southern new England end ups with so called “carbon neutral” power from what is arguably “brown hydro” that is banned by Mass, VT , NH and CT long ago. VT didn’t have a lot of choice with Vermont Yankee going down so they declared HQ power “green” several years ago and use it to tout their “green grid” which is propped up by Canadian hydro. Mass and CT are poised to do so as soon as there is way to get the power into the region.

    Thus HQ power to southern New England is most likely a given. It comes down to how. There is no need to dream about what a high power DC transmission line from Canada to southern New England is going to look like, one already exists running roughly along the NH and VT border conveniently run outside the view shed of the WMNF. It has been shut down for days in the past by a couple of morons with a hunting rifle and much of electrical system feeding north of the border was shut down for months due to the ice storm of 1998. So it comes down to who can most cheaply transmit the power from north to south. NP decided to do it cheap, fast and dirty by using high overhead transmission towers on a mix of existing and new right of ways with little or no accounting for long term vulnerability.

    As NH is a net power producer and landowner rights have gained some minimal protections, NP could not use eminent domain to grab the new right of ways like in the past. They also made a political blunder in doing the initial routing through or past affluent land owners and the WMNF. This created an unplanned significant opposition and groups like AMC and SPNHF were mobilized by their members. Even though folks assume these organizations would get heavily involved in any project, this is sadly not the case. The prior PNGTS natural gas project cut a similar size swath through northern NH, but unlike NP there was little or no opposition as it didn’t run through affluent summer colonies or the WMNF. NP was forced into the reality that in order to get the project approved the best option was to bury a portion of the line through the areas of affluent landowners and avoid the WMNF and modified the project scope. Ideally had they elected to bury the entire line on existing right of ways it would be under construction albeit at a much higher cost that may have made it more costly then alternatives.

    There are other projects proposed to bring HQ down to southern New England, Champlain Express has proposed an underground/underwater approach and in general went in the project collaboratively with the state and local organizations. They currently have major permits in place. Their approach is more expensive than NP and effectively is waiting in the background for NP to fail. CMP in Maine is proposing a similar project to NP through the western Maine mountains, it will be similar in impact to NP but it tends to be an “out of sight out of mind” to southern New England. The state of Mass relatively late in the game put out a new brass ring for projects in the guise of the RFP for large blocks of renewable power. These three projects along with numerous others are in the running and the winner gets effectively a guaranteed profit for long period of time and significant financial assistance to build whatever project was approved.

    NP has always approached permitting as something they could manage their way around. They have spent years ingratiating themselves with the state county and local government politicians and of late been successful in supporting the most recent governor who is strong supporter and has already replaced individuals who opposed the project. There is some speculation that NP has determined that they “own” enough votes on the state SEC to get approval but are stymied that if they use these votes to short circuit the process that litigation over the process will sidetrack the permitting even further.

    Federal approvals were never an issue regardless of administration. The EPA has delegated authority to the state of NH for environmental enforcement so unless the state blatantly ignores federal law it’s a rubber stamp. The DOE is another similar rubber stamp as technically this grid improvement project with encourages renewables. The federal government even prior to the current administration put in place special polices to encourage large electric transmission power lines.

    There will be a lot of noise generated by the project between now and the decision vote, barring some sort of criminal act that changes the SEC’s board composition it is just going to be noise although I expect it will be used for fundraising by the opposition. Realistically HQ has not been the quickest way to get HQ power to the region as the change to burial has opened up a big can of worms that the competitive projects don’t need to deal with.

  6. #6
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    Thanks, PB, for the factual overview.

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