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Feasible or not, Gingrich would bury Hydro-Québec power lines in U.S.

No Republican candidate has slammed Barack Obama harder for postponing approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada than Newt Gingrich. He has lambasted the President for pandering to his "environmental extremist friends" by stalling the project.

But the former speaker of the House of Representatives, who has seen his lead in the polls evaporate, has a different attitude when it comes to transporting Canadian electricity on above-ground power lines through the United States.

In New Hampshire this week, Mr. Gingrich said that, as president, he would deny a permit to Hydro-Québec and its partners to build a $1.1-billion (U.S.) transmission line through the Granite State unless they agreed to bury the lines underground.

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Even if that was technically feasible, a requirement for underground lines through the state's majestic White Mountains would substantially raise the cost of the project, throwing the economic viability of the so-called Northern Pass into question.

But at campaign stops in the state, which holds its GOP primary on Tuesday, Mr. Gingrich decried the project's "environmental pollution" and said there is a "deep feeling in northern New Hampshire that this unnecessarily disrupts the beauty of the region."

The 330-kilometre Northern Pass transmission project would carry about 1,200 MW of hydroelectric power from Quebec to markets in New England. Its backers have touted the environmental advantages of hydro power, which produces no carbon emissions, and insist the power is needed to meet requirements for renewable energy in the region.

"My position would be that the application that I would be willing to consider as President would have to require burial and would have to require that the Northern Pass project be done as an underground project rather than involving very large towers across northern New Hampshire," Mr. Gingrich said on Thursday in Plymouth, a town of 7,000 on the southern tip of the White Mountain National Forest.

The project's backers – which include the Quebec government-owned utility, Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities and Massachusetts-based NSTAR Electric – were taken aback by Mr. Gingrich's statement.

In a posting on the project's website, they said "our studies show that [burial] may not be sensible using traditional underground technology."

They did not reject Mr. Gingrich's idea outright, however, and said they would continue to study alternatives.

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But they added: "It certainly it sets a poor precedent for candidates to make decisions on these projects before they are finalized."

Mr. Gingrich's position on the Northern Pass contrasts his stand on the Keystone project. He has blasted Mr. Obama for interfering in the market and threatening U.S. access to Canadian oil.

"I don't think he realized that the prime minister of Canada has a pretty easy alternative. All he has to do is turn to the Chinese, get them to fund the pipeline and build it from Central Canada, west to Vancouver," Mr. Gingrich, displaying a shaky sense of geography, said at a recent stop in Iowa.

Indeed, Mr. Gingrich has included a defence of Keystone, a 2,700-kilometre pipeline to carry oil from Alberta's oil sands to refineries in Texas, in his stump speech everywhere. No other candidate has done the same.

Only moments before outlining his position on the Northern Pass, Mr. Gingrich was criticizing Mr. Obama for "siding with environmental extremists in San Francisco" by denying a permit to TransCanada, which is proposing to build the $7-billion pipeline.

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