A coalition of student protesters presented the Yale Investments Office with an open letter on Oct. 26 demanding that the University withdraw Yale-owned real estate from a deal allowing the construction of a transmission line through New Hampshire.
The proposed transmission line, called Northern Pass, would carry energy from Canada’s hydropower plants through New Hampshire and into New England. While a portion of the 192-mile transmission line would be underground, some forest areas would have to be cleared for construction. Protesters cited environmental and social justice concerns as their reasons for opposing the project.
“If Yale made the commitment to not allow this to happen, it would send the message that the public deserves to be listened to,” said Adriana Colon ’20, secretary of the Association of Native Americans at Yale, one of the organizations backing the open letter. “If Yale made the decision to stand up against letting their property be used for this project, it would force power companies to consider alternatives.”
Through an investment partner, Yale owns a 24-mile piece of land integral to the development of the Northern Pass under its current specifications, said Jerry Curran, chair of the New Hampshire chapter of the Sierra Club. Without that land, the project would face serious setbacks, he added.
Much of the criticism focuses on the role of Canadian hydropower company Hydro-Quebec in the project. Hydropower, unlike wind and solar energy, has severe climate costs, including higher greenhouse gas emissions and a high carbon footprint, according to Curran.
He added that the construction of Hydro-Quebec’s dams has resulted in the flooding of 8.7 million acres of “pristine forest.”
Hydro-Quebec spokeswoman Lynn St-Laurent disputed those claims about hydropower, arguing that it is “absolutely false” to say that Hydro-Quebec reservoirs produce larger carbon footprints than other sources of renewable energy.
Yale’s investment manager Bayroot LLC originally leased the land in question to the energy company Eversource in 2012. Last summer, Eversource exercised an option to renew that lease until 2110. Over the following months, student groups, concerned New Hampshire residents and other affected parties unsuccessfully lobbied the University to pull out of the deal, Colon said.
Yale responded to complaints in a June 20 press release explaining that the University had little involvement in organizing and upholding the lease. According to the release, most of the Yale endowment is managed by external managers, who are given discretion to invest in projects without first consulting the University. Wagner Forest Management, a company hired to manage the land, leased the 24 miles of contested timberland to Eversource for this project. The Investments Office declined to comment on the open letter.
While the Northern Pass is still under review by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, Eversource spokesman Martin Murray said the company is confident that the project will reduce New England’s reliance on less sustainable, more expensive fossil fuels. In doing so, carbon emissions will go down by three million tons each year, saving the region $600 million annually, Murray said.
“There is a real serious objective to diversify the sources of energy in New England, to find clean sources of energy and sources that will lessen costs,” Murray said.
In addition to their qualms about the environmental impact of the line, protesters focused their ire on Hydro-Quebec’s strained relationship with the Pessamit First Nation in Canada, an Innu community that has lived for centuries in the region, which now houses several hydropower dams.
In a letter sent to the Yale Investments Office in May, Pessamit Innu First Nation Chief René Simon claimed that Hydro-Quebec, Eversource’s Canadian partner, has operated illegally on Pessamit land and caused severe damage to fisheries and natural ecosystems.
In that letter, the Pessamit people invited a delegation from the Yale Investments Office to come to Canada to witness the severity of hydropower’s impact on the natural environment.
“When Yale allows this injustice to be committed against the Pessamit people, they send the message that they don’t care about the oppression of marginalized people everywhere,” Colon said.
Yale has not responded to any of the Pessamit people’s attempts to open communication, she added.
In response, St-Laurent said Hydro-Quebec has not violated any historical treaties concerning the Pessamit Innu. The company always develops projects and operates in accordance with the legal framework and aboriginal rights, she added.
While he said Eversource is aware of the criticism of the project, Murray suggested that some of the opposition may result in part from negative advertisements potentially funded by other corporate stakeholders.
“Common sense tells us that other companies may feel like they might lose out if a proposal that is cleaner and more economical is successful,” Murray said. “I hope that people will begin to question, and perhaps expose some of these cloudy figures that are spending a lot of money on these campaigns but refuse to say where that money is coming from.”
The graduate student union Local 33, the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and the Association of Native Americans at Yale were among the groups that backed the open letter.
Maya Chandra | email@example.com
Correction, Nov 7: A previous version of this article mistook the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.