The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Northern Pass Transmission, LLC’s proposed 187-mile transmission line across the United States-Canada border in New Hampshire.
If approved, the line would have the ability to deliver 1200 MW of hydroelectric power from Quebec into southern New England—a potentially tantalizing amount of power for policymakers seeking to diversify the region’s generation portfolio and lower its GHG emissions. At the same time, it may have unintended consequences such as causing existing zero-emission nuclear facilities to retire prematurely as market-clearing prices in the region decrease.
As the agency responsible for issuing a Presidential permit authorizing the construction and maintenance of international transmission lines, DOE is required to evaluate the environmental effects of and alternatives to the proposed Northern Pass project. In the end, DOE’s decision will hinge on whether the project is found to be consistent with the public interest—a determination that will be heavily influenced by the line’s environmental impact.
DOE considered the impacts of both the proposed overhead transmission line as well as the impacts associated with nine alternative projects, each of which involved burying various stretches of the line. The agency concluded that the proposed project would impose greater environmental impacts than the underground alternatives primarily because of the adverse impacts to visual resources, tourism, and recreation in the affected area—which includes part of the White Mountain National Forest. DOE also concluded that an overhead line would lead to greater adverse impacts on vegetated habitat, wildlife, and wetlands. On the other hand, the underground alternatives would pose a greater threat of erosion and other negative soil effects. Between the underground options, those involving burial of the line along existing roadways would be the least consequential from an environmental standpoint.
That said, DOE did find that the proposed overhead design would be the least expensive option, with the costliest alternatives being those that involved a greater extent of the line being placed underground.
However, the agency noted that local jurisdictions would reap less tax revenue with the proposed project, both because the visual impacts of overhead infrastructure might reduce property values and also because local tax revenues would be based on the value of construction.
DOE is currently soliciting feedback on the DEIS, asking that comments be submitted to the agency by October 29, 2015. DOE will consider these comments in issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Should DOE then decide to issue a Presidential permit for Northern Pass, it will need to obtain the concurrence of the Secretary of State and Department of Defense.