Not in ME’s Backyard

The proposed transmission route for Maine's wind-power project.

The proposed transmission route for Maine’s wind-power project.

Recently, much of the Upper Valley has been astir with the news that a cooperative venture between Hydo Quebec and Northeast Utilities may bring a high-voltage power line through the region.

Known colloquially as the “Northern Pass,” the proposal seeks to satisfy increasing demands for sustainable electricity in New England by creating a north-south conduit for hydroelectrically generated energy. Advocates say that such a project would not only generate thousands of locally-sourced jobs, but would also help Connecticut and Massachusetts meet the renewable energy quotas established by recent state laws. Critics tend to focus on the adverse environmental impacts that the undertaking would have on the countryside and its potential to promote “run-away power development” throughout the region.

As The Dartmouth Review reported in its summer issue, Northeast Utilities’ current plan would carve a 200-mile transmission line out of the New Hampshire wilderness and require the construction of more than 1,000 support towers. A section of the route would bring it right up against the border of the Second College Grant and make it visible from a number of vantage points on Dartmouth’s 27,000-acre property.

Despite these local impacts, however, there has been little debate about – or even acknowledgement of – the project among undergraduates on Dartmouth’s campus. Instead, protests and demonstrations have been limited to citizens of New Hampshire and Vermont who have joined forces with groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club to oppose the proposal. Although their efforts have suffered from a lack of engagement among Dartmouth environmental groups, it would seem that they are about to gain a new ally from an unlikely northern neighbor.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Maine has recently signed contracts that could more than double its output of wind power to over 800 megawatts in the next few years. Leveraging a 2008 law that incentivizes wind development, firms like Iberdrola, TransCanada, and EDP Renewables have rushed into New England’s “Vacationland” seeking to make sustainable energy one of its leading exports. Now dozens of developers have advanced plans to construct wind turbines throughout the state, and power grid operators like ISO New England have speculated that they can derive as much as 1,275 megawatts of wind power from its forests.  Such projects would necessarily require a great deal of new infrastructure development, including dozens of 160-foot turbines and Northern Pass-like transmission lines.

The reception of this energy program has been mixed at best. Although some Mainers have lauded the new proposals as a boon to business and a benefit to region’s efforts at economic modernization, many have criticized them for their adverse effects on the environment and the region’s rural charm. As The Wall Street Journal reports, many worry that “turbines aren’t worth the spoiled views or noise” and that “more wind turbines will turn the woodsy state into New England’s utility closet.”

Although the source of this opposition has been largely non-partisan, a great deal of it has come from Republicans representing the state’s most rural districts. While acknowledging that the potential economic upsides for such development are very real, conservatives like Larry Dunphry have criticized wind turbines for their unsightliness and argued that renewable energy’s juice just isn’t worth the squeeze. He has been joined by a number of other state Republicans who have downplayed the economic effects of the proposed construction while emphasizing its harmful impacts on the local environment.

The result is a curious inversion of traditional political roles: the GOP, an assumed standard-bearer of economic development and autarkic energy policies, has now become a primary opponent to the power plans of northern New England. This alignment has left the environmentalists of New Hampshire with an unlikely bedfellow in their fight against projects like the Northern Pass. Only time will tell if this congruity of interest produces cooperation and what affects it might have in local political debates.


— Nicholas P. Desatnick

  • Susan Schibanoff

    One of the most notable features of the Northern Pass project is the way in which it has united a number of distinct and sometimes traditionally opposed groups: old, young; rural, urban; long time residents, newcomers; conservative, liberal; Democrat, Republican, Independent; etc. That may simply because the project is harmful in so many specifically individual ways that it taps opposition energy on a number of fronts but, more likely, it is because these various groups come together in their common understanding that NH still possesses special qualities of landscape and all its associated values that projects like Northern Pass as proposed and its inevitable successors would wipe out. New Hampshire ain't New Jersey . . . yet. And NH has the advantage of 20-20 hindsight of what has happened in other states that have allowed merchant energy developers to have their way. As for Dartmouth's tardiness in engaging with the Northern Pass issue, it is worth noting that its counterpart in NH has taken a stand. The UNH SEAC group has stated the position that Northern Pass is neither sustainable nor safe.

  • Nancy Martland

    Just for the record, the opposition against Northern Pass in New Hampshire is almost entirely non-partisan, representing all points on the political spectrum. The issue is of such gravity here that most of us have put our politics aside. This seems to be true in the legislature as well. For example, the vacancy on the Executive Council created by the untimely death of Councilor Ray Burton has brought forth one Democrat and three Republicans to run for his seat. All oppose Northern Pass.

    I guess at least this one issue moves people to put their ideologies aside in favor of a common goal: defending ourselves against the incursion of an unnecessary and unwanted insult to our land, both private and public.

    Incidentally, the UNH Student Environmental Action Coalition recently tweeted its opposition to Northern Pass. What will it take to get Dartmouth onboard?

  • Matt

    Of course, these same folk protesting the hydro electric power would protest new electrical generation near them. And then there are many people who protest wind power, carbon emissions that fuel climate change, and higher density housing. All of which are at cross-purposes.

  • Carole B

    I think you meant to say 500 ft. turbines and 160 ft. transmission towers. The sheer magnitude of what these energy companies are proposing in both NH and ME is staggering and will trash those states. NH is a net exporter of power currently generating almost twice as much power as it uses. ISO New England reports show the overall demand for power decreasing, then why are all these new projects being proposed to bring power to MA and CT at the expense of NH and ME? It is about big business and profit for these foreign companies while they reap the profits from the PTC (Production Tax Credit) at the expense of tax payers and rate payers. NH and ME are easy pickings due to weak siting guidelines, unlike CT, which, has issued a moratorium on wind projects (yet it is okay for them to purchase wind power from other states). While the RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) goals sound noble and righteous, created by our politicians who want to sound noble and righteous, in reality they don't make sense. Due to the abysmal capacity factors and inefficiency of wind, you would have to cover the ridgelines with thousands of turbines stretching for hundreds of miles to meet the goals. If UNH is opposing Northern Pass, they need to get onboard and stop supporting industrial wind and it's related transmission infrastructure, which is no different. I urge everyone to educate yourself about what the proposed projects really mean for these states and who really benefits from them. The propaganda put out by the Wind Industry plays into everyone's desire to do the right thing and be green. Unfortunately industrial wind is green washed and the only green is our money lining the industry's pockets.