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Northeast Utilities plans additional transmission to meet capacity needs

Northeast Utilities expects to build additional transmission to fill capacity needs created by retiring coal-fired and nuclear plants in New England, the utility said Friday.

NU, the region’s largest utility, already has a $4 billion pipeline of transmission projects planned through 2017. The utility foresees the need for more transmission in the six-state region to make up for capacity shortfalls and to accommodate new wind power installations.

“We think that it is likely there will be significant additional transmission investment needed to maintain reliability and improve access to these clean, intermittent power sources,” Lee Olivier, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in an earnings call Friday. “But it is too early to estimate how much that additional investment will be and exactly when it will occur.”

Recent announcements amount to 2,700 MW of retiring generation, about 10% of the region’s peak capacity, he said. These include the planned 2017 retirement of the 1,497-MW Brayton Point and the 2014 closing of the 604-MW Vermont Yankee. Olivier also factored in 500 MW of demand response that was withdrawn from the next ISO New England capacity auction.

In all, the utility has identified up to 8,000 MW of New England plants that may shut down.

Wind power built in Maine also contributes to the need for transmission, according to Olivier, since the power must be moved south to Connecticut and Boston, the region’s load centers.

“So you’re looking at two issues,” he said. “One, you’re looking at a capacity shortfall in the 2018 time frame. Second, you’re looking at more transmission to get renewable energy to the marketplace.”

One of the utility’s largest and most controversial transmission projects, the 1,200-MW Northern Pass, continues to move forward. A draft environmental impact statement is expected from the US Department of Energy next summer.