The Power of Place

The Power of Place is Jerry Monkman’s new documentary film about The Northern Pass, a billion plus dollar electricity transmission line project that will cut through New Hampshire. The line would be 187 miles long with 1500 steel towers that are as tall as 135 feet.

Last night, I watched the world premier at the Red River Theatres in Concord, New Hampshire. I was joined by my friend, John Judge, from the Appalachian Mountain Club. AMC is a big supporter of the film and has done a lot of work to oppose The Northern Pass.

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Debbie and I are longtime members of AMC’s Board of Advisors and Horst Engineering is a longtime supporter of AMC’s mission. Our family businesses, Horst Engineering, Thread Rolling Inc., and Sterling Machine, need safe, reliable, and cost-effective electrical power to operate successfully in Connecticut and Massachusetts. We have significant monthly utility bills and the power we pay for is a critical part of our manufacturing processes. Electricity is always on my mind.

I’ve been following The Northern Pass project for many years. I’ve read a lot about it and much of what I’ve read has been from AMC’s perspective. This particular energy project has created more controversy than any New England project in decades, but it is still off the radar of the vast majority of our region’s population. The acute effects of an expanded electrical transmission corridor, larger towers, and higher voltage lines will be felt throughout New Hampshire, but particularly in the northern forest areas that include the White Mountain National Forest. For these reasons, and many others, AMC has helped lead vociferous opposition.

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The private for profit energy project involves Hydro-Quebec and Empower (formerly Northeast Utilities). Empower and National Grid are the two main utilities that our businesses rely on, and they happen to be rivals. There is a ton of information about the project and there are multiple opposition groups, so it would be pointless for me to attempt to describe the situation in any detail. Among those opposition groups are entire municipalities that have lined up against the project. Those interested should read on and explore the links, but also, watch the film.

I support many capitalistic ventures, but I have a very strong environmental ethic and have always been willing to pay a premium for electricity so that the impact to the environment is minimized. 10 years ago, Debbie and I built an energy-efficient home, we conserve energy, and we educate our children so that they do the same. At Horst Engineering, we have implemented many conservation projects including the shift to more efficient lighting and motors. We have solar PV electric power systems on two of our buildings, totaling 76kW and have offset a good chunk of our power demand by investing in these renewable sources.

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Clearly, we are willing to “pay a premium” for cleaner power, though there is so much more that we and others can do. With all of that said, I’m an avid outdoorsman and have spent lots of time in the mountains of New Hampshire. I don’t want to see this project go through. Like many of the others, I challenge everyone involved to find better alternatives, even if that means scrapping the current project.

The argument has pitted northern New England states against southern New England states. Many of the protesters have argued that New Hampshire will not directly benefit from the project. The power will just be “passing through” on its way to markets in Southern New England states, including Connecticut. The utilities have touted the infrastructure/construction project as a job creator. Even the regions utilities aren’t on the same page. After all, they compete in a tough market, and one that is dominated by only a handful of players. Despite deregulation, consumers still don’t have much choice. The company that owns the transmission lines that deliver electricity to your house or business has a lock on the distribution of your power. You can’t go anywhere else.

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Too often, we take it for granted and don’t pay attention to where our power comes from. Society suffers from the same type of problem with our food. Debbie and I believe that you have to know where these things come from. Whether it is the food we eat or the electricity we cook it with, knowing that these products were sourced in a responsible manner, and transported with minimal impact on the environment, is just the beginning.

That bring’s me back to Jerry’s film. Watch it. It’s a great story with some amazing time-lapse photography, videography, music, and interviews. On the surface, you can view it as art, and it is splendid. However, there is so much more to the story. It is told from the perspective of the opposition, so it doesn’t present a balanced argument. The people behind The Northern Pass declined to participate in the film, so you only hear a little bit from their perspective. Regardless, it is a powerful film about a power project.

Click here to read about the Appalachian Mountain Club’s position.

Click here for a cool flyover video using Google Maps and GIS technology.

AMC has a lot of company in this fight.The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests have also been vocal in their opposition. So has the Conservation Law Foundation and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Existing power lines already cross the Appalachian Trail, but The Northern Pass would bring more development to the White Mountain National Forest and would impact the AT even more than today.

Click here for the Forest Society’s information.

Click here for the CLF’s information.

Last night’s premier was held in a sold out theater. After the film, Jerry and his assistant producer, Kari Post, fielded questions about the making of the film. 20 hours of interviews were recorded, though they were edited down to 35 minutes in the film. It was a tedious process. The videography and photography also took lots of time. Jerry and his team, including his spouse and business partner, Marcy, worked on the film for more than two years. Jerry and Marcy have written multiple guidebooks about New England’s wild places, including Acadia National Park. Jerry is one of the premier outdoor photographers based in New England and many of his iconic images grace the pages of publications including Yankee Magazine and Outdoors. The Monkman’s children joined them at the premier. I love family enterprises, so it was nice to meet them and know that they were part of the making of the film.

The film was partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign. Following the Q&A about the film, Jerry moderated a panel discussion regarding The Northern Pass. Susan Arnold (Appalachian Mountain Club), Jack Savage (Forest Society), and Rob Werner (City of Concord) all spoke about their opposition to the project. They took question after question from the packed crowd. When the program wrapped and we were filing out of the theater, I met many of the people featured in the film. It was really neat to chat with some of them after seeing and hearing them in the film.

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On the drive back to Boston, John and I discussed our thoughts and ideas at length. My final thoughts are that the impact of the development is too great. There has to be a limit and The Northern Pass has met its match in the number of people who are against it. Susan Arnold said, “We have to think fairly about energy, but not export the impacts of the power that we use.”

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