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N.H. Site Evaluation Committee Votes Against Eversource's Northern Pass Project03:22
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The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee on Thursday voted unanimously to deny Eversource's controversial Northern Pass project a permit.

The panel was in its third day of deliberations on whether to let the 192-mile transmission line proposal move forward.

They had informally agreed Wednesday morning that they did not feel Eversource, the utility developing the project, had proven the power line would not unduly affect the orderly development of the region.

That was one of four criteria the project had to meet in order to get a permit. The committee had only discussed one other criteria so far — the project's financial and technical stability, which they'd agreed was sound.

On Wednesday afternoon, according to attendees, Public Utilities Commission representative Kathryn Birchard moved she and her fellow SEC members vote to deny the project. She argued it couldn't overcome their concern that it would have an outsized impacts on land uses and local planning along its route through the North Country and central New Hampshire.

The commission's initial vote on Bailey's motion was 5 to 2 in favor of denial. They then voted again and were unanimous, denying Northern Pass a permit to begin construction this spring as planned.

The SEC's surprise early decision comes after years of fiery debate about Northern Pass in New Hampshire and beyond, and will likely set off a lengthy appeals process.

In a statement Thursday evening, Eversource New Hampshire said:

"We are shocked and outraged by today’s SEC outcome. The process failed to comply with New Hampshire law and did not reflect the substantial evidence on the record. As a result, the most viable near-term solution to the region’s energy challenges, as well as $3 billion of NH job, tax, and other benefits, are now in jeopardy. Clearly, the SEC process is broken and this decision sends a chilling message to any energy project contemplating development in the Granite State. We will be seeking reconsideration of the SEC’s decision, as well as reviewing all options for moving this critical clean energy project forward."

After the SEC issues a formal, written decision, Eversource will have 30 days to request a re-hearing. If the SEC declines to re-hear arguments on the project, Eversource would get another 30 days to appeal their case to the state Supreme Court.

Longtime opponents of Northern Pass, such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, say they'll fight any appeals that come.

"I'd like to think that they understand finally that New Hampshire does not want this project," says Forest Society spokesman Jack Savage.

He says they're pleased the SEC felt the project hinged so clearly on the development issue.

"They understood that a project like this was contrary to the character and orderly development of our small towns North and South," he said.

In a statement, the anti-Northern Pass nonprofit Protect the Granite State said called the SEC decision "proof that grassroots voices matter."

Eversource staff cleared out quickly after the vote came down, but some who've spent years protesting the project lingered to celebrate. Helmut Koch of Concord was among them.

"There was a lot of diligence, so I'm pleased with the outcome," he said. "The process works."

It's not immediately clear what the SEC's decision means for Massachusetts, which one week ago granted Eversource the sole rights to a long-term contract for purchase of hydropower from Northern Pass.

A spokeswoman for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued a statement saying:

"Public reports suggest that Northern Pass committed to delivering hydroelectric power to Massachusetts in 2020. The vote from the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee raises serious questions about this timetable. At a minimum, it appears today’s development requires reevaluation of the selection of Northern Pass."

In a statement issued Thursday, Peter Lorenz, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said:

Massachusetts’ recently selected clean energy procurement project remains conditional on necessary sitting approvals, and EEA will continue to monitor and evaluate developments in New Hampshire as the administration works to ensure a clean and affordable energy future that progresses toward greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

With additional reporting from the WBUR Newsroom. This story was first published by New Hampshire Public Radio. The audio atop this post aired in WBUR's All Things Considered.

This segment aired on February 1, 2018.

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