Northern Pass on Trial
During the SEC deliberations the subcommittee members weighed about where each of them stood regarding one of the key standards the applicant must prove. The statute says “The site and facility will not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region…”
The applicant has the “burden of proof” that the proposed project won’t unduly interfere.
All seven subcommittee members concluded individually that Northern Pass did not meet the burden of proof based on the record. Noting that this mean the project could not and would not be granted a certificate, the subcommittee ultimately voted to end deliberations. When it came to a vote, the subcommittee voted 7-0 to deny Northern Pass a Certificate based on the applicants failure to meet the burden of proof on the Orderly Development standard.
Read the Forest Society's statement about the SEC decision.
The SEC accepted the Northern Pass application for a Certificate in December 2016. After a year of hearings, pre-filed testimony and technical sessions, the adjudicatory hearing, or "trial" portion of the Northern Pass application got under way in April 2017. More than 100 intervenors, including landowners and communities up and down the state, were involved in what is likely the largest SEC trial on the largest SEC application on the largest infrastructure proposal in state history.
Northern Pass, a project proposed by Eversource in partnership with Hydro-Quebec, would have seen 192 miles of transmission line built, with 132 miles overhead on more than 1,000 towers and 60 miles buried. The project would need a federal Presidential Permit, a Special Use Permit from the White Mountain National Forest, and a permit from the SEC. The SEC is the New Hampshire statewide siting authority for energy infrastructure projects.
In order to issue a siting permit to Northern Pass, the SEC must find that it meets four standards as outlined by NH RSA 162-H:16:
"In order to issue a certificate, the committee shall find that:
(a) The applicant has adequate financial, technical, and managerial capability to assure construction and operation of the facility in continuing compliance with the terms and conditions of the certificate.
(b) The site and facility will not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region with due consideration having been given to the views of municipal and regional planning commissions and municipal governing bodies.
(c) The site and facility will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety.
(e) Issuance of a certificate will serve the public interest. "
The SEC subcommittee who will make the decision on Northern Pass, has seven members. The chair, Martin Honigberg, is also on the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), as is committee member Kate Bailey. Three subcommittee members represent state agencies: Bill Oldenburg of NH Department of Transportation, Craig Wright of NH Department of Environmental Services, and Chris Way of NH Department of Resources and Economic Development. Two subcommittee members represent the public, Patricia Weathersby and Rachel Dandenau. After delays, the SEC had set March 31 as a deadline for a decision.
At the adjudicatory hearing, Northern Pass was represented by its attorneys, and intervenors in some cases had their own attorneys or were representing themselves. The hearing involved various witnesses being cross-examined by intervenors as well as Northern Pass. Witnesses included Northern Pass representatives and their hired experts, representatives of intervenors such as the Forest Society, and experts hired by the intervenors.
Also involved was the Counsel for the Public, who works for the New Hampshire Attorney General, and who represents the interests of the public. Initially that was Peter Roth, hired his own attorneys to assist him, and they hired their own experts. When Roth left the position, he was replaced by Chris Aslin.
The experts prepared analyses and reports about various aspects and impacts of the proposed transmission line, including visual impacts, wetlands impacts, economic impacts, property value impacts, tourism impacts.