by Peter Riviere
Portland Natural Gas Transmission System's 103 miles of pipeline through northern and southern New Hampshire is closer to reality following conditional approval by the state's Site Evaluation Committee on Monday.
Approval follows three days of testimony taken in early June.
At least one of the conditions includes routing more favorable to the town of Shelburne at the east end of the 70 miles of pipeline running through Coos County
A similar alternate routing through Gorham was not part of the approval, which will be made public in its entirety by the end of this week.
Gov. Jeanne Shaheen announced the decision Tuesday, saying in a news release, "The pipeline ultimately will benefit businesses and consumers by providing energy alternatives that are consistent with fostering increased competition." She noted that "facilitating the transport of additional supplies of natural gas to our state and region will also benefit our area's air quality. Natural gas results in cleaner emissions than many other forms of energy"
Site Evaluation Committee Chairman Robert Varney, the state's environmental commissioner, said PNGTS filed its application in May 1996, while a second company, Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, LLC, joined the application process in September 1996.
Varney explained that under state law, the SEC had to weigh a variety of considerations in conducting its review of the proposal. Those include maintaining a balance between the environment and the need for new energy facilities, as well as aesthetics, historic sites, public health and safety, capabilities of the applicant, and orderly development in consideration of the views of regional planning commissions and municipal legislative bodies.
"The final route was chosen with much care, input, and deliberation," said Varney. Noting that the approval "is predicated on environmental and safety conditions," he added that inspectors from the Department of Environmental Services and the Public Utilities Commission will be present during construction to ensure that the pipeline is built according to standards.
Varney commented that though the transmission line is an interstate line, it is designed with the potential to serve several major industrial sites in New Hampshire. Several laterals will be made available to Wausua Paper Mills in Groveton and Public Service of New Hampshire in Newingion, and the line will pass in close proximity to the Crown Vantage paper plants in Berlin and Gorham.
Mike Minkos, president of PNGTS, said, "I'm very pleased that we have achieved this significant milestone. I greatly appreciate the committee's hard work. New Hampshire is the first state to issue major approval for construction. This certificate follows closely on the heels of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's favorable draft environmental impact statement, confirming that PNGTS is on the mark."
Varney said the SEC decision and conditions would be transmitted to FERC and likely would be incorporated in the federal permitting authority's final decision.
It is expected the pipeline will generate $2 million in annual property taxes for the towns it traverses.