Battle Lines | The Northern Pass Energy Project
The problem, Long replied, is that people simply aren’t taking a long enough view. “When people say, ‘We don’t need this for reliability today,’ I agree. Today. But if you follow that logic, we don’t need any renewables. So do we need it today? No. Can we build more natural gas? Yes. But what do we want?”
The issue of what we want, both as a region and as an entire nation, is one that obviously strikes a chord with Long. At numerous points during our conversation, he commented on the general direction of our society and what he perceives as an inability to take sound, decisive action in regard to both electricity generation and, I sensed, broader issues.
“Where are we going? I think it’s a weakness we have as a country right now,” he said at one point. This belief seems to have instilled in him a somewhat coldly pragmatic view of 21st-century America and her people. When the issue of climate change came up (he raised it), I was a little taken aback by the bluntness of Long’s stance: “I’m not sure society is prepared to do enough about it, so ‘You’re going to have to deal with it, folks.'”
Long dismissed concerns over real-estate values; he thinks the Dannis appraisal is deeply flawed and has commissioned an appraisal of the appraisal, so to speak.
“There are 1,500 miles of transmission lines in New Hampshire. To my knowledge, there’s no evidence that any of those lines has affected real estate values,” he said. “Anecdotally, there’s just as much evidence that values don’t go down.”
Too, he simply doesn’t buy the argument that the new electical transmission lines, with their accompanying 80- to 135-foot towers, spaced every 800 feet, will be a blight on the landscape and a deterrent to visitors. “I don’t know of any structure that has stopped people from going to the White Mountains,” he added.
In short, Gary Long argues that opponents of The Northern Pass simply aren’t seeing the big picture and don’t appreciate the noble efforts of PSNH and Hydro-Québec. He noted that when he started at PSNH, New England was relying on natural gas for less than 1 percent of its electricity. Now, it’s approaching 50 percent. And he sees parallels between the energy crisis of the 1970s and what’s happening now. “We did things, but I don’t think we did enough,” he observed, talking about the oil embargo and its aftermath. Long believes our nation is at another inflection point regarding energy: “I’ve seen many big changes, and I think we’re at another one.”
Finally, Long feels frustrated that he and the company he heads have been vilified: “We’re spending millions of dollars to do what we should do … I don’t want to say it’s fun, because it’s not–these issues are never fun. But if we can get this done, it will be very exciting for the state. And when it’s done, the issues will go away.”
The issues will go away. Long’s assertion brought to mind something John Amey had said when it was his turn to speak at the Ridge Runners meeting. “They still don’t get it: that there’s nothing you can pay to get someone to give up a way of life,” he told the small crowd. Amey spoke mildly, clipping his words in the manner common to the region. There was no bravado or rancor in his statement; he was simply laying out the facts as he saw them. The sky is blue, the sun is round, maple trees keep growing, there’s nothing you can pay to get someone to give up a way of life.
Later that evening, after the meeting, after dinner, and after we’d returned to the Ameys’ farm, John and I stood in the doorway of the dairy barn, looking across pastures halfway through their seasonal metamorphosis from brown to green. I asked Amey what he and Cindy-Lou would do if The Northern Pass won approval and if the route across their farm became the route of choice. He didn’t hesitate: “I’m not going anywhere. I don’t tell people I’ll leave, because I won’t.”