Massachusetts officials Thursday selected a controversial New Hampshire transmission line project to deliver renewable energy to the state, passing over several competing proposals, including a major new transmission line from Canada offered by Central Maine Power.
The Northern Pass project that received preliminary approval involves 192 miles of transmission lines to carry power from hydroelectric dams in Quebec to Massachusetts. Eversource’s Northern Pass project was selected over a roughly $1 billion proposal from Central Maine Power to build 145 miles of transmission lines that also would carry electricity from Hydro-Quebec facilities to the Bay State.
Besides the CMP-Hydro-Quebec project, the competition for a slice of Massachusetts’ growing renewable energy demand attracted several wind- and solar-energy proposals from Maine, including two massive wind power proposals in Arookstook County, smaller projects in western Maine and a large solar array. None of them made the cut.
“The clean, affordable power flowing over Northern Pass into the New England grid in 2020 will provide customers in the Commonwealth and throughout the region with much-needed energy price stability and emissions reductions and will deliver significant economic and environmental benefits to the region for years to come,” Eversource Executive Vice President Lee Olivier said in a statement.
CMP spokesman John Carroll said the utility was disappointed in the decision, but that CMP and its parent company intend to keep its New England Clean Energy Connect project moving forward.
” … Avangrid and Central Maine Power continue to believe the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect can contribute to New England’s long-term need for clean, renewable energy,” he said in a statement to the Press Herald. “The company will keep to its permitting schedule to be ready for a construction start by mid-2019.”
Carroll added that CMP started planning for its corridor to Quebec years before the Massachusetts request for proposals came out, and will continue to position the project for future opportunities.
Eversource and CMP had been going toe-to-toe lobbying for their respective projects in the Massachusetts competition.
In early December, CMP held a news conference to challenge its rivals and lay out why its $950 million plan was the cheapest and most reliable choice to supply Massachusetts with hydroelectricity.
‘GREATEST OVERALL VALUE’
The event took place in Augusta, and was attended by Maine business leaders and municipal supporters. But the message was meant for New England media, which joined via conference call. The takeaway was: CMP’s project would save Massachusetts electric customers $600 million over two competing proposals – Northern Pass in New Hampshire and TDI’s New England Clean Power Link in Vermont.
“We have great momentum,” said Sara Burns, CMP’s outgoing president, who ticked off the advantages of the company’s project.
In early January, CMP released an advertisement asserting that Massachusetts electric ratepayers would pay over $2 billion more over a 20-year period for clean energy transmission projects in Vermont or New Hampshire.
But decision makers in Massachusetts didn’t reach the same conclusion.
Massachusetts Commissioner of Energy Resources Judith Judson told The Associated Press that Northern Pass was selected because it offered the “greatest overall value” to the state and its utility customers.
The selection of Northern Pass won’t be greeted with enthusiasm by everyone in New Hampshire. The project already had been delayed for years over concerns by residents and environmental groups about overhead lines running through the White Mountains and other scenic areas. The project now vows to bury 60 miles of lines underground.
Anti-wind activists who saw the CMP project as having the potential to connect new wind farms in the western Maine mountains also strongly opposed the transmission plan. They were happy that CMP, as well as several standalone wind proposals, failed to gain traction.
GOOD NEWS TO SAVING MAINE
Richard McDonald, president of Saving Maine, said the absence of any Maine wind projects in the Massachusetts contract was good news.
“If these projects were selected, they posed a direct threat to the region’s $1.2 billion tourism economy,” he said in a statement to the Press Herald. “Today we celebrate, knowing full well that this threat may be back, if the southern New England states once again look to Maine to satisfy their renewable energy policy.”
His comments were echoed by a spokesman for Friends of Maine’s Mountains.
“Maine dodges a bullet, for now,” said Chris O’Neil, “as wind developers are still seeking contracts in southern New England. A wise and proper decision by the selection committee, particularly considering the scoring system that favored dispatchable generation, like hydro.”
Dispatchable generation sources can be turned on or off with demand.
But O’Neil noted recent assessments following last month’s frigid weather that the region still needs new generation capacity, to replace retiring nuclear and fossil fuel plants. He said it would be good for CMP, as well as for the TDI project in Vermont, to continue to pursue permits.
Massachusetts passed a law last year requiring the state to seek long-term contracts for offshore wind farms and land-based renewable energy. The law calls for 1,600 megawatts of wind energy and 1,200 megawatts from other sources, such as hydro, land-based wind and solar.
A megawatt of generating capacity provides enough energy to serve between 750 and 1,000 homes.
Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.
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