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Northern Pass Is Passing The Buck

New Hampshire is nearing a tipping point in the battle for our energy future. With utilities fast approaching the state’s arbitrary cap on net metering, a burgeoning rooftop solar market hangs in the balance — along with thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in economic impact, and continued progress toward a more sustainable environment.

Meanwhile, the 800-pound gorilla in New Hampshire’s energy market, Eversource, is pushing a $1.4 billion project to import hydroelectric power from Canada along a 187-mile high-voltage line running nearly the entire length of the state.

While it might be nearing its net metering cap, Eversource has made no move to raise it. In fact, during the last legislative session, it opposed the idea of a cap increase. This comes as no surprise given that utilities across the country are trying to eliminate net metering to stop competition from rooftop solar. (Here’s a great write-up on that from the Washington Post.) And from its perspective, this is a good play. Why support a program that helps consumers by making energy more plentiful and affordable when the utility could make so much more money digging a scar-like tunnel across an entire state and funneling ratepayer dollars to a foreign corporation?

Thankfully, the good folks at Eversource created this handy FAQ page to answer questions just like this. (It even included a helpful hotline and contact email.) Scanning the corporate jargon and lobbyist speak, the phrase, “We’ve done a lot of listening over the last year,” pops up numerous times in various forms. In fact, it begins the answer to nearly every question. Which brings up a question of my own: Who has Eversource been listening to?

It’s certainly not listening to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which has given up arguing about harmful impacts to the environment and is busy buying up land to block the proposed path of the Northern Pass line. And it’s definitely not listening to the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Conservation Law Foundation, or the New Hampshire Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, all of whom have expressed opposition to the project.

Reading on, you see the same tired rhetoric about “investments” in local nonprofits and conservation groups, acknowledging the project’s negative impacts and attempts to mitigate community outcry. Anyone who’s done a little public relations work knows that these feel-good endeavors are “baked” into the budget for any large-scale private project. For Eversource, it’s part of the cost of doing business.

Also part of that cost are the solar jobs that will be lost when Eversource reaches its net metering cap. That revenue and job creation will move north to Quebec, where electricity powering the project originates.

The good news is that policymakers appear to be doing the due diligence on the Northern Pass. But in policymaking, talk is cheap. Real leaders step up. It’s time for New Hampshire to stand up to the monopoly utility.

 
 
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is an independent media strategist based in San José, CA. You can read his many musings on Twitter @pjallen2.

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