Citing unresolved concerns about Northern Pass, Gov. Maggie Hassan yesterday urged Connecticut’s governor to oppose a pending rewrite of that state’s renewable energy plan that would reclassify large-scale Canadian hydropower for that state’s renewable energy goals.
The proposed Northern Pass, which would bring hydropower from Canada to the New England power grid by crossing New Hampshire, would qualify under the bill. The bill, which passed the Connecticut Senate last week, 26-6, could come up for a vote in the House as early as today.
Connecticut has a goal of purchasing at least 20 percent of its power from renewables by 2020. The legislation would allow large-scale hydropower from Canada to account for up to 5 percent of that goal.
“Many in my state believe that the impetus for Connecticut’s legislation is your state’s desire to benefit from the Northern Pass project,” Hassan wrote in a letter to Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a fellow Democrat. “As you know, Northern Pass raises many questions for New Hampshire. That project could have an impact on some of our state’s most important natural resources, such as the White Mountain National Forest, which are critical to the success of our tourism industry.”
Hassan noted that New Hampshire has not yet received a permit application for Northern Pass or had a chance to fully discuss it. The project has not yet applied for required federal permits either. Nor have state officials or residents been told what course the proposed 180-mile power line will take.
Northern Pass officials have repeatedly delayed releasing the northern section of the proposed route as they’ve struggled to buy enough contiguous pieces of land for the new power line. Two conservation easements block the likely route at strategic places, prompting some lawmakers to question whether Northern Pass will try to cross state land or conservation land.
Officials from the governor’s office, the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Resources and Economic Development said they have not been contacted by Northern Pass officials about crossing those properties.
Malloy’s office didn’t tarry yesterday in responding to Hassan’s comments.
Malloy is maintaining his enthusiastic support for the legislation because it’s a “win-win for Connecticut and the region,” said Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff, in an email.
“We strongly disagree with Gov. Hassan,” he wrote. “Accessing hydroelectric power is a win-win for Connecticut and the region because it will lower rates for Connecticut residents and increase our supply of renewable energy.”
Hassan also questioned the harm such a rewrite of renewable energy standards could have on the larger New England region. Currently, small hydropower projects, as well as other developing technologies such as biomass, solar and wind power qualify but large-scale projects don’t.
The idea is to give new, alternative energy sources a guaranteed market as they grow.
“For years, the New England states have worked together to ensure that our (renewable energy) policies provide appropriate incentives for renewable energy investments in our region,” Hassan wrote. “These incentives are aimed at keeping consumer costs as low as possible, while also ensuring that our states reap the economic benefits of renewable energy production.”
Hassan’s letter to Malloy continued: “The . . . policies excluded large-scale hydro – even within the region – because these plants don’t need incentives to stay in operation,” she wrote. “To include large-scale hydroelectricity in your (renewable portfolio) undermines our common goal of fostering new and small-scale renewable resources here in New England.”
“Connecticut residents pay among the highest prices for energy in the country, and Gov. Malloy believes our consumers deserve some much needed relief,” he wrote. “This proposal does just that. The purchase of more expensive and less clean biomass is simply not an option.”
After seeing Hassan’s letter yesterday afternoon, a Northern Pass spokesman said that project will not need subsidies or a rewrite of renewable energy projects to compete.
“A distinguishing and substantial benefit of Northern Pass is that it can compete with other fuel sources without a subsidy or the need for legislative changes to existing (renewable energy) laws,” Michael Skelton said in an email.
“There is growing demand for an increased supply of renewable energy sources across New England, and this is a point on which most states agree,” Skelton continued. “For this reason, we believe that all forms of renewable energy need consideration. How each state goes about structuring laws and policies to determine how best to meet their needs is up to them. There’s no question, however, that we view the biomass plants here in New Hampshire as important sources of renewable energy.”
Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association, which opposes the project as proposed, has been following the Connecticut legislation closely.
He said he agrees with Hassan’s assessment that the Connecticut bill is intended to give Northern Pass, and its Canadian partner Hydro-Quebec, a long-term contract. Dolan said the bill guarantees that contract because it excludes any large-scale Canadian hydropower built before 2003.
Dolan said only Hydro-Quebec is the only large-scale Canadian hydropower generator that can meet that requirement
Dolan said he had shared his concerns with Hassan before yesterday.
“Connecticut is attempting to provide a benefit for a highly controversial project that has to cut through . . . New Hampshire and is incredibly controversial before New Hampshire has even had a chance to weigh in on it,” Dolan said. “And that for us is incredibly troubling.”
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