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Eversource transmission project gets DOE impact statement, needs final OK

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Eversource Energy said the U.S. Department of Energy called its Northern Pass Transmission project the "preferred alternative" in a final environmental impact statement

The DOE concluded that the project provides substantial benefits and would result in only minimal impacts, Eversource said, noting that the statement is a product of years of review of project environmental impacts by DOE in cooperation with other federal agencies, and reflects input collected from thousands of comments submitted by key stakeholders and the public.

Bill Quinlan, president of Eversource operations in New Hampshire, said in the statement, in part: “As this clean energy project continues to advance through the final stages of the New Hampshire permitting process, we are encouraged to have reached this major federal permitting milestone. We are now another step closer to realizing the many benefits Northern Pass has to offer New Hampshire and the region.”

Eversource said that the project is now awaiting the issuance of its federal permits, including DOE’s presidential permit, a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. All major state and federal permits are expected this year, Eversource said, adding that all major contractor and equipment contracts are fully executed.

The project would be substantially complete by 3Q20, and following testing, the line would be in service by the end of 2020, the company said.

The Northern Pass transmission line begins at the Canadian border in Pittsburg, N.H., and extends to Deerfield, N.H., where it connects to the New England grid, Eversource said. More than 80 percent of the line would be located along existing transmission corridors or buried along roadways to eliminate potential view impacts in the White Mountain National Forest area, the company said. Northern Pass would provide a new interconnection path between the Québec and New England electric systems, and would be controlled by ISO New England (ISO-NE), Eversource said.

According to the statement summary, the USFS – White Mountain National Forest, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Region 1, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – New England District, and the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning (NHOEP) are cooperating agencies in the preparation of the EIS.

“The proposed DOE action in the final EIS is to issue a presidential permit to the applicant, Northern Pass LLC, to construct, operate, maintain, and connect a new electric transmission line across the U.S./Canada border in northern New Hampshire,” the statement summary said.

Noting that Northern Pass LLC applied to the USFS for a special use permit that would authorize Northern Pass LLC to build, own, operate, and maintain the line to cross portions of the White Mountain National Forest under its jurisdiction, the statement summary said that the forest supervisor of the White Mountain National Forest will use the statement to inform the record of decision in regard to the requested use.

As noted in the statement summary, the New Hampshire portion of the project would be a single circuit ±320-kV high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line running about 158 miles from the U.S. border crossing with Canada in Pittsburg, to a new direct current-to-alternating current (DC-to-AC) converter station to be built in Franklin, N.H. From Franklin to the project terminus at Public Service of New Hampshire’s (PSNH) existing Deerfield substation in Deerfield, the project would consist of 34 miles of 345-kV AC electric transmission line.

As noted in the statement summary, the purpose of the project is to build and operate a participant-funded electric transmission line to deliver 1,090 MW of low-carbon, non-intermittent power – about 98 percent hydropower – from Quebec to southern New Hampshire to serve the New England region. The project would address three primary needs concerning the region’s electricity supply: diverse electricity supply; low-carbon electricity supply; and non-intermittent electricity supply, the statement summary said.

The statement summary noted that it analyzed the No Action Alternative, the Proposed Action, and 10 additional action alternatives. Alternative 2 was used as the basis for comparison because it was the Proposed Action at the time the draft EIS was prepared and published. While Alternative 7 is now the Proposed Action – DOE’s preferred alternative – for continuity and to avoid confusion, some of the alternative descriptions still refer to Alternative 2 as the basis for comparison, the statement summary added.

Alternative 2 is described in the statement as primarily overhead in existing PSNH “transmission route, convert from HVDC to HVAC at Franklin converter station, overhead HVAC to Deerfield substation,” while Alternative 7 is described as “Alternative 2 except underground in NH Routes 18, 112, 116, and US Routes 3 and 302 from Bethlehem to Bridgewater,” N.H.

While Alternative 2 would be capable of transmitting up to 1,200 MW of power in either direction – Canada to the United States, and United States to Canada – Alternative 7 would be capable of transmitting up to 1,090 MW of power in either direction, the statement summary added. The project would be similar to Alternative 2 but would include about 52 additional miles of underground cable in roadway corridors between Bethlehem, N.H., and Bridgewater, the statement summary said. The project under Alternative 7 would be about 192 miles in length, with about 60 miles of underground HVDC cable, the statement summary said.

Overall, Alternative 2 would impose the greatest potential environmental impacts as compared to the other action alternatives primarily because of visual impacts, vegetation removal, and ground disturbance required for the creation of a new 40-mile-long, 120-foot-wide route in the northern section of the project, the statement summary said. That section includes portions of the project within Coös County, N.H., as well as a small area of Vermont near the U.S./Canada border, which includes Canaan, Vt., the statement summary added.

Aboveground infrastructure in Alternative 7 would result in visual impacts, although impacts would be smaller than under other alternatives, including Alternative 2, due to the additional length of underground cable that would be required as compared to the other alternatives. That could result in adverse impacts to tourism and recreation in the affected areas, the statement summary said, adding that the overhead line could be visible from historic architectural resources and thus could adversely affect the historic context of those sites more than the underground alternatives.

Alternative 7 would result in moderate impacts to vegetated habitats as compared to the other action alternatives because there would be a need to clear about 40 miles of new corridor in the northern section, the statement summary said. Required widening of the existing corridor in the central section – which includes portions of the project within Grafton and Belknap counties in New Hampshire – would be minor due to the additional section of underground cable in roadway corridors. That land disturbance would create the potential for impacts to archaeological resources and wildlife, including protected species, the statement summary added.

The construction cost of Alternative 7 would be greater than alternatives with fewer miles of underground cable, but less than the fully/primarily buried alternatives, the statement summary said. Visual impacts may reduce some residential property values along the proposed transmission route, which could also result in lower residential property tax revenue collections as compared to the fully/primarily underground alternatives.

Alternative 7 would result in moderate long-term wetlands impacts as compared to the other action alternatives, with about two acres of direct impacts, 170 acres of temporary impacts, and 36 acres of secondary impacts, the statement summary added.

Construction of that alternative would also result in fewer impacts to soils and have less potential for erosion as compared to the alternatives with more overhead transmission line, the statement summary noted.

Further discussing wildlife, the statement summary noted that a total of five federally and 24 state-listed wildlife species have the potential to occur in the study area and were therefore considered in the analysis. For most of those species, there is no difference in effects determinations between action alternatives, the statement summary noted.

Alternative 7, for instance, “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the “Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis) FT, SE” species. The statement summary added that no lynx or suitable denning habitat is located within the study area, and that suitable foraging habitats are prevalent throughout the northern section.

For the majority of the 24 states threatened and endangered species considered in the analysis, localized, short-term, adverse effects would occur from disturbance/displacement during construction and maintenance actions.

For the state threatened and endangered species with differences in impacts between action alternatives, the results show that for the fish, “Bridle Shiner (Notropis bifrenatus) ST,” Alternative 7, for instance, would cause localized, short-term, adverse effects resulting from disturbance/displacement during construction and maintenance actions. The results also show that for the Brook Floater Mussel (Alasmidonta varicosa) SE, Alternative 7, for instance, would have no effect for construction and maintenance actions.

Among other things, the statement summary noted that the electricity provided to the ISO-NE region from the project could result in a decrease in the use of fossil fuels for thermal electricity generation. The reduction in CO2 emissions from implementation of the project could be about 2.8 million metric tons of CO2 annually in 2030, over a 10 percent decrease from existing levels for alternatives with a 1,200-MW capacity, or 2.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year, over a 9 percent decrease from existing levels for alternatives with a 1,090-MW capacity, the statement summary said.

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