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Central Maine Power Co. wants to make Gov. Paul LePage’s hydropower dream come true.
The utility and Hydro Quebec jointly filed a proposal Thursday with regulators to build 145 miles of new transmission lines that would bring a massive amount of hydropower across Maine’s western border with Canada onto New England’s regional grid.
The proposed 145-mile transmission line would run from Beattie Township through The Forks and down to a new converter station in Lewiston, where the direct-current power from Canada would get switched to alternating-current power before coming on to the existing grid.
The utility gave reporters an advance look at the project that will compete against many others vying for money from Massachusetts to help meet that state’s renewable energy purchasing goals.
The competitors include transmission lines connecting to Quebec through Vermont and New Hampshire, as well as New Brunswick-based Emera’s Atlantic Link proposal for an underwater line connecting New Brunswick to Boston.
Emera subsidiary Emera Maine did not submit any proposals into the process, but the parent company wants to serve up wind and hydropower from Canada’s maritime provinces into the New England grid, according to spokesman Gerald Weseen.
None of the proposals, including Emera’s, appear to connect the separate Northern Maine grid with the rest of New England’s electric system, operated by ISO-New England.
CMP officials think their options – with bid alternatives including wind, solar and power storage – will offer the best bang for the buck, but they and others are keeping their specific costs under wraps.
The project would run through land the company’s quietly acquired during the last 2½ years, according to President and CEO Sara Burns. And she thinks that’s part of their advantage.
“If you have to get the path after you’ve announced, you’re going to pay a whole lot more,” Burns said, referring to the development of Eversource’s Northern Pass transmission plan through New Hampshire. “We did the reverse.”
The CMP-Hydro Quebec proposal would add up to 1,090 megawatts of hydropower capacity to the regional grid, capable of fulfilling almost all of the Massachusetts request. It’s enough to power about 1.3 million homes and equals 81 percent of all power from Maine generators in 2016. The line itself would have a maximum capacity of 1,200 megawatts.
The company’s also filed a second bid with NextEra, which would serve up a mix of Maine-based wind power, solar power and energy storage using a transmission line in the same right-of-way. The project offers a range of capacities from 460 megawatts to 1,110 megawatts, as part of what Burns called a “cafeteria plan” of options for the Bay State.
The Hydro Quebec project would also include building a new substation in Pownal, requiring reconstruction of a line running from there to Lewiston. The company would also rebuild part of that transmission loop running from Augusta to the former Maine Yankee atomic power plant in Wiscasset.
The proposed connection to Canada would require 145 miles of new direct-current transmission line, built through a corridor CMP says ranges from 300 to 500 feet wide. About 150 feet would be cleared for the new line and it would run alongside an existing line from The Forks to Lewiston, a corridor with 150 feet already cleared.
The company estimates the project would have the effect of lowering power prices for Maine, as Massachusetts would pay for the new transmission lines. That’s because the project would shift the balance of power generation away from natural gas, which makes up about half of the generation in New England.
Economists working for CMP estimated adding that much hydropower onto the regional grid would drop wholesale energy costs in Maine by an average of $40 million per year for 20 years.
If built, the company said the project would support about 1,700 direct and indirect jobs during the six years required for its permitting and development. It would involve approval from about eight different levels of government, ranging from local governments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Burns said the company has recent experience handling all of those approvals, based on its $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Program, except for the Department of Energy process for new cross-border power lines.
It estimates the project would secure almost all of its permits by the end of 2018 and could enter service by 2022.
A big buy
The massive procurement from Massachusetts drew the attention of at least another 1,071 megawatts in proposals in Maine alone, including wind and solar developments across the state, according to earlier bid documents.
That doesn’t include Emera’s 1,000-megawatt underwater Atlantic Link.
The largest of the interested Maine-based projects were a 449-megawatt Aroostook County wind project proposed by NRG and a 252-megawatt Washington County wind project proposed by EverPower Wind Holdings, in Cherryfield and Deblois. It was not clear Thursday morning whether the projects ultimately submitted bids.
The same goes for other interested parties, including transmission developer Maine Power Express, wind developer EDP Renewables, hydro dam generator Brookfield Renewable Partners and Bay of Fundy tidal power developer Halcyon Tidal Power LLC.
All provided comments to Massachusetts officials on the proposal process, but bid documents were not immediately available from Massachusetts officials Thursday morning.
They do intend to publish public versions of those bids eventually, according to the state’s request for proposals issued in March.
Massachusetts plans to select a winner or winners by Jan. 25, 2018, putting them up for approval by the state’s Department of Energy Resources in April 2018.
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