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N.H. Supreme Court will hear Northern Pass appeal

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N.H. Supreme Court justices, from left, Associate Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, Senior Associate Justice Gary Hicks, Chief Justice Robert Lynn, Associate Justice James P. Bassett, and Associate Justice Patrick E. Donovan. (Nancy West photo)

CONCORD - The state Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear Eversource's appeal of state regulators' decision to deny the Norther Pass Transmission project.

The Site Evaluation Committee voted 7-0 to deny the application for the 192-mile, $1.6 billion transmission project stretching from Pittsburg to Deerfield intended to bring 1,090 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec power to southern New England in February and reaffirmed its decision by the same vote in May.

Eversource appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in August claiming the criteria the Site Evaluation Committee used to deny the Northern Pass Transmission project was "unduly or impermissibly vague" and claimed regulators prematurely ended deliberations before assessing the project's benefit which could have swayed the decision, and failed to follow statutes and its own rules.

Opponents of the project, including the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, asked the Supreme Court to uphold the SEC's decision and reject Eversource's appeal.

"The questions Northern Pass has raised in their appeal are not substantial," said attorney Amy Manzelli of BCM Environmental & Land Law after the appeal was filed in August.

On Friday, Eversource called the court's acceptance another step forward for the transmission project.

"The New Hampshire Supreme Court's decision to accept our appeal is a positive step in our ongoing efforts to move this critical clean energy project forward, and we are grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate that New Hampshire siting requirements were misinterpreted and incorrectly applied in reviewing Northern Pass," Eversource said in a statement.

The company said the need for clean, affordable energy sources for New England remains and Northern Pass is the most advanced project to bring Canadian hydro-power to the region.

After the SEC rejected Northern Pass, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Project turned to Central Maine Power's New England Clean Energy Connect as the transmission project to supply that state with Hydro-Quebec power. That project is before Maine regulators.

"On behalf of all our customers and businesses throughout the region in desperate need of rate relief, we remain fully committed to advancing Northern Pass, along with its many economic and environmental benefits, to help New Hampshire and New England address our energy needs and achieve our environmental goals," Eversource said in its statement.

The court's decision to accept the appeal was not unexpected.

"At the Forest Society we've been working with our attorneys in expectation that the Supreme Court would take up Northern Pass's appeal," said Jack Savage, vice president of communications and outreach. "We think the SEC decision to deny a permit was the right one made for the right reasons--Northern Pass failed to meet the burden of proof. We'll be working to make sure the court has a full understanding of the issues that led to the SEC decision."

After 70 adjudicative hearings, 154 witnesses and reviewing 2,176 exhibits, the SEC voted 7-0 Feb. 1 to deny Eversource's application saying the company failed to meet its burden of proof the transmission project would not interfere with the orderly development of the region, one of four criteria needed in order to grant a permit.

The committee said Eversource and its experts failed to provide enough credible evidence for the committee to make an informed decision on the project's impact on property values, local businesses, tourism and changes in land use.

In its appeal Eversource attorneys said, "This proceeding is a textbook case of arbitrary administrative decision-making that violated RSA chapter 162-H and the Applicants' due process rights."

The high-voltage transmission project through the North Country, White Mountains, Lakes Region and through the Capital area has been controversial since it was first proposed in 2010.

Developers agreed to bury about 60 miles of the line, mostly through the White Mountain National Forest, while much of the rest of the line would be in existing utility rights-of-way, although with larger towers. The project did include a new 32-mile transmission corridor through the state's most northern communities.

The project was opposed by environmentalists and conservationists, small business owners, residents along the route, local municipal and planning officials and all but two of the host communities.

The project had the support of large businesses and business organizations, unions and economic development officials.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

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