Although it has received little attention in Hanover (or at least Dartmouth), a proposed transmission line to carry hydropower from Quebec to Connecticut is one of the most controversial issues in the Upper Valley. The proposal, called the Northern Pass, is a nearly 200 mile high-voltage line connecting Hydro Quebec, a hydroelectric power company owned by the Quebec government, with Northeast Utilities, a Connecticut Utility. PSNH, a New Hampshire utility is also involved in the deal.
The proposal would carve out a transmission line through the mountains of New Hampshire, and has faced a fierce backlash. One of the primary reasons many people live in Vermont and New Hampshire is the rural, natural charm, but the Northern Pass would require the construction of over 1,000 towers, many of which would soar over 100 feet into the sky. Citizens have rallied, ecological interest groups have organized and fought tooth and nail, and public outcry has been intense.
These grassroots efforts have seemed to have made real progress in blocking, or at least temporarily delaying, the success of the Northern Pass. In late June the Northern Pass announced that it had shifted the proposed corridor’s route far to the east. In response to public concerns, the new route also includes an eight mile section of the route that will be buried underground.
Unfortunately for Dartmouth, this new route traces by the western border of the Second College Grant. The Northern Pass would have a tremendous impact on the Grant.
While many students visit the Grant on their first year trips, a significant portion of students have barely even heard of, or much less visited, the Grant. The Grant is a plot of 27,000 acres in the mountains of northern New Hampshire which the state gave to the College in 1807 to help fund the school by opening up the land for logging. It is an area of pristine beauty, with gorgeous rivers and lush forests.
Transmission towers would affect the scenery of the Grant. The new route cuts into the Swift Diamond River Valley south of Diamond Pond and then runs parallel to the Swift Diamond River until it reaches a point about three miles west of the Grant. Here it turns south and runs along Corser Brook and Greenough Pond Roads. Clearings to make way for the transmission lines would be 150 feet wide, with towers up to 100 feet high running its length. These towers would be visible from many places in the Grant, especially Sam’s Lookout, a viewpoint that provides stunning views to the west.
More serious than scenic worries are concerns about ecological damage.
Several years ago, Bayroot LLC, a timber company that owns the land adjacent to the Grant, proposed a massive wind power project. At 200 megawatts, the wind farm, originally called North Country Wind, would have been one of the largest wind power installations east of the Mississippi. The project fell through because of a lack of transmission capability.
To shift the route of the transmission lines eastward, the Northern Pass bought a lease option from Bayroot. The lease also included an option to install wind turbines. To install these 400 foot tall wind turbines, Northern Pass would need to blast mountaintops and build major infrastructure. All of this construction would take place in the Swift Diamond River Valley Watershed and just three miles from the border of the Grant. Runoff from the project would negatively impact the health of the Grant’s ecosystem.
An interesting part of this development is the identity of one of Bayroot’s major investors: Yale University. The Eli’s clearly have a strong incentive to build these turbines and ensure the success of the Northern Pass. Their investment in Bayroot would pay off generously with the construction of the turbines, and the completion of the Northern Pass would provide cheaper energy to New Haven.
Despite its environmental effects, the Northern Pass would bring substantial economic benefits to New England. Although most of the 1,200 jobs created would be temporary, Northern Pass claims that the project would raise $28 million in local, state, and county tax revenues. Project officials also state that annual energy cost savings for New Hampshire would be between $20-30 million.
There are still many issues which the Northern Pass must deal with before it can build the lines. Right of way disputes, stiff resistance from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and permission to cross the White Mountain National Forest are all roadblocks in the way of the Northern Pass. In addition, President Obama must permit the lines to run between Canada and the United States.
If the Northern Pass is successful, it will change the lives of many in the Upper Valley. Economic benefits would be substantial and would extend to millions around New England. For those living near the proposed route, they will have to deal with unsightly lines and potential environmental damage.
For us at Dartmouth, we think about the Grant.
The Grant is a very special part of Dartmouth. It exemplifies the rugged, outdoor-oriented nature of the College. It dates back to the Dartmouth of old, when the school needed the logging profits just to stay fiscally afloat. The cabins are old, sturdy, timber buildings with propane lights and woodstoves.
Staying in Peaks cabin in the fall, right after the snow has begun to fall, is idyllic. Waking up in the early morning, donning a soft flannel jacket, duck boots, and a warm hat; heating up a pot of coffee on the stove; opening the cabin door to a rush of brisk mountain air; watching the sunrise over the mountains jutting beyond the Dead Diamond; and venturing into the woods to hunt, hike, ski, or just wander, is a truly “Dartmouth” experience. You feel away from everything, outside of the Dartmouth bubble, and in a peaceful, natural landscape unspoiled by human activity. The Grant is a place you cannot find at any other school. It is part of our identity.
All economic progress comes at a cost, and there is no easy response to the Northern Pass. Its upsides are clearly evident, but its downsides persist. As a conservative who values free markets and growth, I know that the Northern Pass is a very valuable project. As a frequent visitor to the Grant and a lover of the outdoors, I resist how the Northern Pass would forever change the experience of the Grant. Whether or not the Northern Pass is successful, I hope that more Dartmouth students will take the time to explore the Grant for themselves to realize how special it is.
** A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Northern Pass would require the
construction of over 10,000 towers. It has since been corrected.