Clean Energy FAQs
Is Northern Pass considered "clean energy”?
Northern Pass is an electric transmission project that will deliver competitively-priced electricity from Hydro-Québec’s
hydropower facilities in Canada to New Hampshire and the rest of New England. Hydropower is widely considered one of the cleanest sources of electricity because it harnesses the energy of falling or running water instead of burning fossil fuels that release greenhouse gas (GHG). Hydropower has been used as a source of reliable energy for centuries and is the leading source of renewable energy in the United States.
How does hydropower compare to other energy sources?
Hydropower from Canada is one of the lowest carbon-emitting energy options available today. In 2013, power produced in Québec accounted for 32% of total power generation in Canada, but was responsible for only 0.4% of GHG emissions linked to electric utilities. Emissions over the lifetime of a hydro project are similar to wind energy, 5 times less than solar photovoltaic, 50 times less than natural gas, and 70 times less than coal. It is also a source of base load energy, which is essential in achieving a reliable clean energy mix, because it is more reliable than intermittent clean energy sources like solar and wind.
What are the environmental impacts of Northern Pass?
Northern Pass’ contribution to fighting climate change cannot be overlooked. By adding a large source of clean energy to the New England grid, it will make the region less dependent on natural gas, coal and oil for generating electricity. In turn, this will reduce carbon emissions by up to 3.2 million tons each year. This will not only help New Hampshire reach greenhouse gas reduction targets, but will also improve air quality and quality of life in the state and the region.
In designing the project, Northern Pass gave careful consideration to the project’s environmental impacts along the route. During public consultation and over a period of several years, Northern Pass heard the concerns expressed by New Hampshire citizens and modified the project to take into consideration those concerns. As a result, more than 80 percent of the route is sited in existing energy transmission corridors or under public roadways to minimize potential visual and environmental impacts. The project is also designed with minimal impacts to natural resources, wetlands and surface waters, with a total permanent wetland impact of less than 2.5 acres.
All energy projects have some impact that cannot be avoided. Northern Pass will submit required plans to local, state and federal agencies describing necessary mitigation activities for environmental impacts occurring during construction.
In addition, Northern Pass, through its parent company Eversource, has contributed $3 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to create grant programs that support conservation groups working to restore and sustain healthy forests and rivers in New Hampshire and around New England. The project will also provide mixed use of 5,000 acres of North Country land for recreational activities, natural resource preservation, and economic development.
Are there environmental impacts that offset hydro’s clean power benefits?
Although hydropower is generally accepted as an affordable clean energy source, some concerns have been raised regarding the construction of hydropower facilities. When hydroelectric projects are initially built, they transform a river ecosystem into an ecosystem similar to that of a lake. Decomposition of vegetation newly underwater leads to the creation of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). However, scientific research conducted on Hydro-Québec’s facilities* shows that while there was an increase in GHG in the first few years after construction, those levels decrease quickly, and fall to a level similar to that of a natural lake within 10 years. The study also found that the amount of GHG released in a boreal region is very low: a hydropower plant with a reservoir located in a northern area emits 17 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt/hour, approximately the same amount of carbon emissions released through the manufacturing of wind turbines.
Another issue often raised in the context of hydropower is the release of methane gas, another GHG, from decomposition in the reservoirs. The water in northern reservoirs is cold, and is regularly remixed and reoxygenated. This higher level of oxygen in the water means that very little methane is emitted from Hydro-Québec
Also worth noting, the hydroelectric facilities that will generate power for Northern Pass have already been built and the company’s fleet is a mix of run-of-the-river and reservoir generating stations. Hydro-Québec has excess capacity from these facilities and is looking to sell this power to markets that want to expand their clean energy portfolios.
*Net GHG Emissions at the Eastmain-1 Reservoir, http://www.eastmain1.org/en/research-project.html
Will the Northern Pass Transmission Project compete with local renewables?
No. Hydropower is not in competition with wind and solar, but is complementary to these renewable energy resources. Intermittent renewable energy sources need to be backed up by a non-intermittent source of power. Hydropower from Québec, which acts as a base load power plant, has the flexibility needed to provide that balance. Although wind resources in other countries such as Germany rely on fossil fuels to back up their generation, New England has the opportunity to use another source of renewable power to back up its wind energy.
In fact, New Hampshire’s own Climate Action Plan recommends the construction of high-voltage transmission lines to bring hydropower and wind power from Canada while also developing non-carbon emitting sources of power locally. In addition, Northern Pass will invest millions in funding to upgrade the Coös Loop transmission system in northern New Hampshire, which will unlock the potential for 100 megawatts of clean energy output to the grid, and has committed to investing in clean energy technology initiatives as part of its $200 million Forward New Hampshire Fund.
How does this project help meet clean energy targets?
All New England states have joined clean energy initiatives and made pledges to reduce GHG emissions. The U.S. government has released its Clean Power Plan, which if put into effect, will require a significant carbon emission reduction from each state. By delivering 1,090 megawatts of clean, reliable and affordable energy, the New England grid will be less reliant on fossil fuels for generating electricity. As a result, Northern Pass will lower carbon emissions by up to 3.2 million tons. Upgrades to the North Country grid will also increase the availability of clean energy sources in the state.
Will Northern Pass create "clean energy” jobs?
Clean energy jobs are those that are created during project development, through the construction of a clean energy project, and into the operations of the facilities. The U.S. government considers transmission lines connecting customers with clean energy sources one such project. Northern Pass will create about 2,600 jobs during its multi-year construction process and has committed to hiring New Hampshire workers first.
What do scientists and policy makers say about Canadian hydropower?
When it comes to fighting climate change, there is little disagreement over the role Canadian hydropower can play. In 2009, the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers recognized hydropower as a renewable energy source, as did the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Power Plan. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which has been a leading voice in the fight against climate change, released a report in April 2016
that advocates for adding more wind, solar and large-scale hydropower in Massachusetts. Doing so "would help insulate the state from natural gas price spikes, cut global warming emissions, and provide economic and health benefits to residents,” the UCS said.