First site evaluation committee public hearing on Northern Pass draws mixed comments

By Garry Rayno
InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — One person described Northern Pass Transmission as a several-hundred-mile-long extension cord from Canada to feed the electric appetite of southern New England without any sweetener for New Hampshire at a public hearing Thursday before the Site Evaluation Committee.
The controversial project also had its supporters who said it is the only mechanism in the next few years that will reduce the region’s high electric costs and bring companies back to the Granite State. Those assertions are challenged by opponents.
About 40 people spoke at the first of three public hearings scheduled on Northern Pass/Eversource’s proposed $1.6 billion, 192-mile, 1,090-megawatt transmission line to bring Hydro-Quebec power to the New England electric grid for people who aren’t intervenors, but have an interest in the matter. A fourth public hearing is expected to be added.
The hearings are part of the Site Evaluation Committee’s ongoing adjudicative hearings that will stretch into September. The committee must decide whether to approve or deny Northern Pass/Eversource Energy’s application by Sept. 30.

Lowe recognized for driving school bus for 60 years/cutline

CUTLINE:

Alan Lowe (left) was presented an appreciation plaque by head of maintenance Dave Goyette of Gorham at the  last-day-of-school pizza party on June 14, at the Ed Fenn Elementary School in Gorham. (EDITH TUCKER PHOTO)

 

Alan Lowe of Randolph was celebrated for his many years of service as a bus driver for Gorham School District at the traditional last-day-of-school pizza party on June 14, at the Ed Fenn Elementary School in Gorham.

Lowe claims 60 years of driving a school bus since he occasionally filled in when his dad, Gordon Lowe, was out driving the wrecker before he was old enough to earn a legal bus driver’s license.

Lowe turned 18 in 1958. He also served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, including 18 months in Berlin, Germany.

His proud family was on hand at the party: his wife Lucille, daughters Suzie Santos and Patti Rousseau, and two grandchildren, Christa and Philip Rousseau.

A delicious beautifully decorated cake made by fellow school bus driver and patissiere Brenda Lauze of Gorham capped the happy celebration.

Goyette pointed out that Lowe over many years had safely driven hundreds of Randolph schoolchildren, from kindergartners to seniors, to schools in Gorham.

Regulator: Committee could consider conditional approval for Northern Pass

By GARRY RAYNO,
InDepthNH.org
 
CONCORD — State regulators may be considering an economic trigger for the Northern Pass Transmission project that could ultimately determine whether the project goes forward.
 
At the Wednesday, June 14, adjudicative hearing on the $1.6 billion, 192-mile, high-voltage electric transmission line, Site Evaluation Committee members questioned the project’s economist on her projections for New Hampshire ratepayer savings.
 
Committee Vice Chair Kathryn Bailey suggested the committee might consider conditioning its approval on whether the project will be able to participate in the forward capacity market developers believe will potentially lower electric rates for New England ratepayers.
 
“As a committee member, I want to be really sure the savings you’re projecting are really robust,” Bailey said to economist Julia Frayer of London Economics International LLC. “One way to do that is to clear the capacity market.”
 
In order to participate in the forward capacity market, the project has to provide information about the project’s costs to the Independent System Operator for New England. The operator then determines what price will allow the developer to recover costs and a reasonable return on investment.
 
If the per megawatt cost is higher than the price generators receive in the forward capacity market for their future energy obligations, then the project would not be able to participate in the bidding or “clear the capacity market.”
 
The forward capacity market is intended to provide market reliability. Power generators bid at a yearly auction to provide a certain percentage of their generating capacity to the market in three years.
 
This year New England generators received more than $2 billion for future sales and the cost will increase next year to $2.7 billion before declining due to lower natural gas prices.
 
Bailey asked Frayer how a conditional certificate would affect developers of the project and she said she couldn’t speak for Eversource, Northern Pass or Hydro-Quebec, but from her point of view just selling energy “is not as convincing” as also participating in the forward capacity market.
 
Bailey asked Frayer if she is confident Northern Pass would qualify to participate in the forward capacity market.
 
“I am confident this will clear the capacity market,” Frayer said, but warned such a condition may create unintended negative consequences in the future.
 
Environmental concerns
 
The SEC also heard from a panel of environmental experts who advised Eversource on the impacts associated with the proposed project to bring 1,090 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec electricity to the New England grid.
 
An attorney representing the Counsel for the Public noted the project will impact three endangered plants and four endangered insects, yet the mitigation plans address only the Karner blue butterfly and wild lupine essential to its survival.
 
Attorney Doreen Connor questioned if the project proposes to do enough to protect the rare and endangered plants and insects noting plans often are not following the best management practices to conserve the species such as avoiding any impact by burying the distribution line in areas in Concord and Pembroke.
 
The Karner blue butterfly and several other endangered butterfly species depend on wild lupine that is abundant in the current utility right-of-way that Northern Pass will use.
 
The project has purchased a seven-acre parcel that will be used to mitigate impacts to the butterflies and plants by construction on the new transmission line.
 
The land includes seven acres in the pine barrens in Concord and 87 acres in Pembroke. The capital area land is part of 1,627 acres of conservation land the project has purchased to mitigate environmental impacts, mostly in the North Country.
 
Northern Pass will also make a $3 million contribution to NH’s Aquatic Resource Mitigation Fund.
But Connor was concerned that little is known about the number of endangered butterflies or other possible areas of endangered plants except for the Karner blue and the wild lupine.
 
Lee Carbonneau, senior principal scientist with Normandeau Associates, said there is a pine barrens management plan proposed that was developed in consultation with US Fish and Wildlife, NH Fish and Game and the National Heritage Bureau.
 
“It is a habitat approach, it will be restored and a mitigation site will be created with suitable habitat,” Carbonneau said. “That is a way to address those species whose specific reductions were not quantified.”
 
Connor questioned if the plan was complete, and Carbonneau said it was submitted with the project’s most recent mitigation plan.
 
Connor also raised concerns about the project’s effect on bats, deer and moose and what will be done to mitigate the impacts.
 
Carbonneau said environmental monitors will track construction sites and will work with the contractors if they are not following protocols.
 
The public will have the first of at least three opportunities to voice their opinions on the project that stretches from the Canadian border to Deerfield on Thursday.
 
More than 115 people have signed up to speak on the controversial project that opponents say will hurt the state’s tourism industry and the state’s environment, lower property values and disrupt businesses.
 
Speakers will have three minutes to make their case at the public hearing that begins at 9 a.m. at 49 Donovan Street in Concord.
 
Garry Rayno can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Wagner to retire as WMNF supervisor on Sept. 1

 

By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Daily Sun

CAMPTON — White Mountain National Forest Supervisor Tom Wagner will be stepping down from his post overseeing the nearly 800,000-acre forest in New Hampshire and Maine on Sept. 1.

“I cannot begin to describe what a privilege it has been to work with you and all the partners who care about this spectacular landscape,” Wagner wrote in an email to his leadership team, staff, and retired colleagues Wednesday afternoon. ”I look forward to working — and having some fun — over the next couple of months to help the transition to new leadership and close out whatever work I can before getting ready for my daughter’s wedding. ... Thank you for your support each and every day!” he said.

Deciding to retire was not an easy decision to make, but he said he knew it was time to start the next journey in his life and to make way for a new forest supervisor on the White Mountain National Forest.

Wagner explained the email that on his way to a refresher meeting for forest firefighters recently, he realized it had been 41 years ago when he’d sat through his first fire training session as a temporary employee working for the Bureau of Land Management in Battle Mountain, Nevada.

He filed his retirement papers with a plan to finish his work as a U.S. Forest Service employee on Sept. 1, 2017. Wagner indicated that he might consider accepting other career challenges. His wife, Joan, plans to continue teaching in the Plymouth public schools (SAU 48).

Wagner has headed up the White Mountain National Forest for 15 years, starting in 2002.

Before then, in 2001, he filled a “detail” as a temporary supervisor that stretched from what was to have been a four month stint to nine months and then asked to fill the post permanently. For a short time, however, he returned to his post of deputy supervisor of the Superior National Forest in Minnesota.

When asked on Wednesday morning about the highlights of his tenure, Wagner replied, that at the top of the list is his appreciation of the quality of the U.S. Forest Service employees attracted to the White Mountain National Forest with whom he has worked, including those who have taken leadership roles at other U.S. Forest Service sites.

“WMNF employees are hard working and have very innovative ideas,” the supervisor said. “There’s no need to motivate them; they’re self-motivated.”

He also praised the outstanding leadership qualities of the state’s conservation community, including the so-called Tilton Diner group, and of its elected officials at local, state and federal levels, from select boards to members of the Congressional delegation, plus appointed employees, agencies and staffs.

 

“There’s a great desire here for people to work together, to sit down and listen to each other and to then find common ground,” Wagner said. “On the whole, people understand the challenges of making decisions about public land. I’ve been here long enough to have developed a lot of relationships, which I greatly value.”

Specific highlights on the White Mountain National Forest over the last 15 years, he said, include: the 2005 approval of the Forest Plan, following a lengthy process; constructing the White Mountain National Forest headquarters in Campton and consolidating the Pemigewassett Ranger District offices there; some “win-win” land swaps, including at Jericho State Park in Berlin and Mittersill at Franconia; the development of town forests, including those in Randolph and Jefferson and in Albany; adding some 15,000 acres to the White Mountain National Forest, mostly smaller parcels and in-holdings; and establishing dependable timber harvests of some 13 million board feet a year.

“Although short of the Forest Plan goal, dependability is important. It was good to see so many logs from the WMNF during last month’s N.H. Timberland Owners Association’s annual meeting tour of the White Mountain Lumber Company in Berlin,” he said.

Wagner and his wife raised three now-adult children: a daughter and two sons. They’re also proud grandparents of a 2-year-old grandson.