FACE OFF: Does The Northern Pass Project Deserve Special Treatment?
Unless you live completely off the grid, it’s hard to have missed the impressive advertising campaign for the Northern Pass Project, which proposes building 140 miles of electric transmission lines through New Hampshire to bring Canadian electricity to New England. These print and television ads, featuring “real” people who support the Northern Pass Project, are everywhere, it seems.
A little less in your face are the voices of the many opposed. Citizens, local governments, the environmental community, and the tourism industry have objected in letters to the editor, town meeting warrant articles, websites, lawn signs, demonstrations, and with orange balloons matching the height of the 135’ high towers that might someday criss-cross the White Mountains.
Add to this dialogue a paper issued by the New England Power Generators Association (NEPGA) voicing its position on the Project. NEPGA maintains that no power project deserves special treatment by regulators and that Northern Pass needs to follow the same rules as its competitors. Trying to gain unfair advantages in the marketplace is just wrong. This line is unnecessary and costly. When additional power is needed to meet the demand of consumers, put competition to work and ensure that a fair market can deliver those results.
NEPGA is made up of competitive electric generating companies in New England. Our member companies represent approximately 27,000 megawatts (MW) – or nearly 85 percent – of generating capacity throughout New England. These same companies provide nearly 5,500 well-paying, skilled jobs, contribute millions of dollars to charitable endeavors throughout the region, and pay over $190 million annually in state and local taxes.
NEPGA’s arguments can be broken down into these areas:
· The Northern Pass Project’s request to use eminent domain to take private property along the proposed route is wrong. This is a private facility and we don’t need the power. Using eminent domain violates both the NH Constitution and the regulatory process. Other competitive electricity projects, like generation and transmission projects, do not use eminent domain. The Legislature agrees: last week the State Senate voted overwhelmingly, as the House did in 2012, to adopt HB 648 and prohibit the Northern Pass Project from using eminent domain to acquire private land.,
· The renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) should not be expanded for large Canadian hydro. Northern Pass Project spokesmen have said they want to change the law to allow power from their project to qualify as renewable under RPS programs and gain an added subsidy from consumers. Qualifying large-scale hydro projects will overwhelm in New England programs, undermine the value of existing and future renewable projects, and slow the development of local renewable power projects.
· A no-bid, sole-source contract is bad for consumers. PSNH wants to change state law to direct the PUC to approve a 40-year power purchase agreement. This will allow them to enter into a no-bid, sole-source contract with the Northern Pass Project to purchase power and supply their default service customers. If this type of supply is needed, it should be procured through a competitive bid process. We also question the appropriateness of PSNH contracting with a project in which they and their affiliates have a commercial interest.
· Unregulated subsidies from regulated utilities are bad for consumers. As a franchised regulated distribution company, PSNH is legally required to maintain a system that treats all customers and suppliers equally. In conflict with that duty, PSNH is giving Northern Pass special treatment. At a minimum, it is questionable for a distribution utility to promote the development of any generation project; if, however, a utility opts to promote any project, they must do so equally for all generators. PSNH should refrain from promoting the Northern Pass Project and focus more properly on its obligation to treat consumers and suppliers equally.
· The number of jobs that will be created has been grossly exaggerated. NEPGA recently commissioned an economic study of the jobs impact of the proposed construction and found that it is half of what a 2010 Northern Pass study projected.
NEPGA expects policymakers to closely scrutinize the Northern Pass Project in 2012 and we plan to work in this process to ensure that a level playing field is maintained. Our Association’s mission is to promote sound energy policies which further economic development, jobs, and balanced environmental policy. Special treatment for any entity conflicts with those goals. The people of New Hampshire are best served when a competitive process determines the best resources to meet consumers’ needs.
Sandi Henniquinn is the Vice President of the New England Power Generators