Power to the People




The debate about Northern Pass has been electrifying.CAMPTON - The annual Grafton County Republican annual golf outing was typical. There were big name local politicians playing best ball with everyday activists and donors in foursomes.When the speeches and lunch came afterward, the host of the event at the Owl's Nest Resort and Golf Club, Tom Mullen, welcomed everyone."Two words," Mullen began.A multitude of two word combinations would be appropriate here. Defeat Obama. Cut taxes. Donate today. Balanced budget. Tea Party. Vote Republican.But today Mullen had a different message. And if you have talked to anyone in the northern half of the state you could probably guess what he was going to say."Eminent domain."That is code for an issue that has galvanized the North Country: Northern Pass. The originally proposed $1.2 billion project by the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire would run power lines 180 miles from Canada's Hydro Quebec system down to Franklin and over to Deerfield. The 1,200-megawatt high-voltage power lines would need to be between 80 to 135 feet high, depending on easement. And, as originally planned, the project might indeed require some eminent domain help from the government.At first Democratic Gov. John Lynch backed the proposal, seeing it as creating construction jobs. That was before the backlash from North Country residents. Now Republican Congressman Charlie Bass, Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen all oppose the project "as proposed." The Legislature is moving on legislation that would prevent eminent domain to be used for a private company. Lynch, of late, has been silent.In the past year Northern Pass has become about more than an electric company and property owners. It represents how we define ourselves: retail politics, love of environment, tourism dollars, favoring the underdog, individual rights, property rights and our basic tax structure - property taxes.Thirty-plus-year elected official Ray Burton, of Bath, says the last time the community has been so unified was over a controversy to expand I-93 through Franconia Notch.This is not to suggest some form of the Northern Pass project won't happen. Those proposing the project hint at other routes and other methods, even possibly burying the lines like another proposed plan from a competitor that would route power through Maine. And while legislators will likely pass some type of eminent domain bill, it doesn't mean the project is over, but will just need to be changed. And who knows if legislators will pass anything at all; lobbyists for the company were able to convince legislators to hold off on the plans until next year.There is a need for the power. If Vermont Yankee Nuclear power plant closes down we will need to make up for the energy lost on the grid. And if we have to have a replacement, hydropower might be more environmentally conscious than another coal-fired power plant.But for now we might as well call Northern Pass, Northern Veto. NH
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