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May 03. 2013 12:41AM

Northern Pass faces another delay

Executives from Northeast Utilities were peppered with questions about the Northern Pass hydroelectric project in an earnings call with analysts Thursday, as the CEO of the company said a route announcement will now come in July.

"Our view of this is to get it right with the stakeholders now, and that will save a lot of problems that (we) would have as (we) start the actual siting process," said CEO Leon J. Olivier. "So it takes a little bit more time, but this line will be built."

Olivier said the expected completion date for the project has been moved back to mid-2017.

Analysts pressed Olivier on the reasons for the repeated delays, and whether the project still makes economic sense.

"The need for Northern Pass is (more) clear now than ever before," he said. "Volatility in the New England energy market this past winter underscored our region's need for new sources of clean, low-cost power to diversify our power supply."

Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, believes his organization has successfully blocked a Northern Pass route through its acquisition of property rights or easements along the intended path.

"I suspect that they know this is not a right project, and what they're really doing is letting their stockholders and analysts down easy over time, continuing to push it off," he said. "They have been pushing it off for two years now."

A proposed route for the 1,200-megawatt transmission lines that would bring hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England grid was first unveiled in 2010, then withdrawn when the state Legislature last year approved a law prohibiting the use of eminent domain for projects like Northern Pass.

Savage said the company has since pursued a new route involving fewer private properties, but has been effectively blocked. Several landowners along the new route have cooperated with the forest society rather than sell to Northern Pass.

At this time last year, NU and its Northern Pass partners, including subsidiary PSNH, said they'd have a new route in July, then October, then by the end of the year. In December the company announced that it has a route, but is not ready to unveil it. In a February earnings call, NU executives predicted a route would be revealed by March.

Analyst Paul Patterson of Glenrock Associates asked Olivier, on a scale of 1 to 10, to rate the project's chances of completion.

"I'm not going to opine on your scale," Olivier said, "but I can tell you we're very, very confident that this will be built."

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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