The rolling hills of northern New Hampshire are among the treasures of New England, and the prospect of an elevated power line cutting across the face of these ranges instinctively seems distressing. This sort of fear — of the destruction of natural beauty as well as the disruption to the local tourism industry due to this damage — has characterized the debate surrounding Northern Pass, a high-voltage transmission line being built by Northeast Utilities that will carry 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England grid. The proposed route runs the length of New Hampshire, and much of the northernmost 40 miles will travel through forestland. It is understandable that the people of New Hampshire are concerned.
Yet there is more to this issue than just power lines crossing through northern forests. In a June report issued by the New England ISO — the regional body that oversees the New England power grid — there are 28 decades-old coal and oil power plants currently on line that are expected to be retired by 2020. Combined, these plants produce over 8,000 megawatts of power that will need to be replaced. Some of these stations will probably be converted to natural gas facilities, but that would only further concerns about New England’s overreliance on a single fuel source. As of 2011, over half of all of the region’s current power comes from natural gas, which is relatively difficult to transport and nearly impossible to store at power plants. This situation also leaves New England dangerously susceptible to price changes. In an ideal world, solar and wind power would be able to fill this impending gap, but the technology to deliver such energy on the necessary scale isn’t yet economically feasible. The development of these clean energy technologies should be strongly encouraged, but it isn’t a good reason to reject Canadian hydropower.