Permitting and Siting
The Northern Pass transmission project has been formally proposed, and is currently in the “permitting and siting” stage.
This is the stage during which state and federal agencies thoroughly examine a proposed energy project, seek public input on that project, and make decisions about the conditions that must be met in order for the project to receive necessary permits. It is also the stage during which the project team seeks additional recommendations for alternate routing options that may be preferable to local communities and landowners. No plans have been finalized, no route has been finalized, and no final permits have been issued.
In addition to state and federal permits, The Northern Pass will need technical approvals from ISO New England, the independent coordinator of the region’s electric grid, before it can begin construction.
Permits required for The Northern Pass include:
- The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee: Certificate of Site and Facility
- Certificate of Site Facility
- U.S. Department of Energy: Presidential Permit
- Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Special Use Permit
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Individual Permit
The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee: Certificate of Site and Facility
The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) is responsible for issuing certificates to energy facilities such as natural gas pipelines, certain electric power generating plants, and new high-voltage transmission lines, including The Northern Pass. The committee is authorized to impose terms and conditions upon such certificates and to monitor the construction and operation of the certificated facilities.
The primary decisional instrument through which the SEC regulates energy facility development is the “Certificate of Site and Facility.” Northern Pass Transmission, LLC expects to file permit applications with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee in late 2012.
Purpose of the SEC
In the SEC’s declaration of purpose, the New Hampshire legislature recognized that the selection of sites for energy facilities has a significant impact upon the welfare of the population, economic growth, and the environment of the state. It further found that the public interest requires that it is essential to maintain a balance between the environment and the possible need for new energy facilities in New Hampshire; that undue delay in construction of any needed facilities be avoided; and that the state ensure that the construction and operation of energy facilities is treated as a significant aspect of land use planning in which all environmental, economic, and technical issues are resolved in an integrated fashion (RSA 162-H:1).
The New Hampshire SEC is composed of the following members:
- Department of Cultural Resources
- Department of Environmental Services (DES)
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED)
- Department of Transportation
- DES Division of Air Resources
- DES Division of Water
- DRED Division of Forests and Lands
- DRED Division of Parks and Recreation
- Fish and Game Department
- Governor’s Office of Energy and Planning
- Public Utilities Commission
- PUC Staff Engineer
The DES Commissioner serves as chair of the SEC, and the PUC Chairman serves as vice-chair.
Public Involvement in the SEC Process
The SEC provides parties who may be potentially affected by and/or interested in specific proposals with direct and timely access to meeting notices, procedural schedules, a means of contact with the Counsel for the Public, and all public documents filed in the proceeding. The committee provides access to records and reports in its files to members of the public during normal working hours, and copies of the records and reports are provided to interested members of the public at their expense.
The SEC was designed to expand public participation by providing interested parties with the information needed to more effectively participate in public informational hearings; to determine how, when, and to whom direct testimony and reports should be submitted; and to prepare for cross-examination of witnesses at adjudicative hearings.
New Hampshire state law (RSA 162-H:10) provides that within 30 days after acceptance of an application for a Certificate of Site and Facility, the Site Evaluation Committee will hold at least one public hearing in each county in which the proposed facility is to be located. The public will be notified of the date, time, and location of these hearings through the local media. The law requires that the public hearings be joint hearings, with representatives of various state agencies that have jurisdiction over the subject matter. The purpose of these hearings is for the public to provide comment on the proposed facilities.
The applicant (Northern Pass Transmission LLC) may also be requested by the SEC or local communities to convene informational meetings to provide additional information about the project to the public. All required state permits (e.g., wetland, water quality) are incorporated into the site certificate.
The SEC receives formal testimony in an adjudicative proceeding, which is a more formal process with witnesses and exhibits being offered about the application for a proposed project. Only those persons who have requested to be a party in the adjudicative proceeding as an intervenor may participate in this phase of the process. In addition, the “Counsel for the Public,” a member of the Attorney General’s Office, represents the public at large on environmental and energy-related issues.
The SEC must issue or deny the Certificate of Site and Facility within nine months of accepting an application, unless a suspension of this time frame is in the public interest.
For further information regarding the SEC, please contact:
Timothy W. Drew Administrator
Public Information and Permitting Unit
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
29 Hazen Drive; PO Box 95, Concord, NH 03302-0095
Tel. (603) 271-3306 / Fax. (603) 271-8013
DES website: des.nh.gov
US Department of Energy: Presidential Permit
Certain facilities and projects—including transmission lines, bridges, pipelines, tunnels, conveyor belts, and tramways—that cross the United States border with Canada require a Presidential Permit. In order for a Presidential Permit to be issued, the proposed facility or project must be found to be consistent with the public interest. The Northern Pass submitted its Presidential Permit application in October of 2010.
The two criteria used by the Department of Energy (DOE) to determine if a proposed project is consistent with the public interest are:
- Environmental Impact: The DOE must determine the environmental impacts associated with issuing or denying a Presidential Permit. This will include a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As part of this process, the DOE conducted public hearings in New Hampshire in March of 2011. Transcripts from the meetings are available on the DOE’s project website.
- Impact on Electric Reliability: The DOE considers the effect that the proposed project would have on the operating reliability of the U.S. electric power supply system; i.e., the ability of the existing generation and transmission system to remain within acceptable voltage, loading, and stability limits during normal and emergency conditions. The standards the DOE applies include the standards of the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) and the standards of the member regional councils, ISO New England and the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC).
After a project is found to be in compliance with NEPA and the electric reliability criteria, the DOE must obtain concurrence from the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense before a permit may be issued.
While the DOE is expected to take the lead in the issuance of a Presidential Permit, several other federal agencies coordinate and participate in the process, including, but not limited to:
- Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
- Federal Aviation Administration
- Federal Regulatory Energy Commission
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Forest Service
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Special Use Permit
A Special Use Permit will be required from the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order for The Northern Pass to cross the White Mountain National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service will be required to consult with the U.S. Department of Energy and other agencies as part of this process.
In order to receive a Special Use Permit, new utility proposals must be accommodated within existing corridors to the maximum extent feasible in order to reduce the proliferation of separate rights of way. Projects must also be compatible with forest-wide and management-area direction, and take into consideration environmental values, economic feasibility, and social and economic benefits.
Numerous resource conditions are considered as part of the permitting process, such as addressing potential impacts to threatened/endangered species, critical habitats, floodplains, wetlands, watersheds, inventoried roadless areas, research natural areas, and archeological/historic sites.
Northern Pass Transmission LLC expects to file an application for a Special Use Permit in 2011.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Individual Permit
The permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will be necessary for this project is the Department of the Army Individual Permit, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act.
The Individual Permit application will be submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers (and to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee) once the Department of Energy’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement is complete.