A $950 million proposal to transmit hydropower 145 miles from the Canadian border through western Maine and to the New England electric grid is moving steadily through regulatory reviews and contract negotiations, despite opposition from groups questioning its environmental and economic benefits to Maine.
If approved by Maine regulators this fall, the New England Clean Energy Connect, or NECEC, project would both build new transmission lines, from Beattie Township in Franklin County on the Canadian border to Lewiston, and upgrade existing infrastructure.
Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec are collaborating on the project, which aims to bring renewable power to Massachusetts by 2022 so that state can meet its own clean energy standards.
In a filing with the Maine Public Utilities Commission last October, CMP said the NECEC consists of a new 145.3-mile, overhead direct current transmission line with a capacity for 1,200 megawatts, plus two new AC/DC converter stations near Lewiston and Pownal, and upgrades to certain transmission system components.
CMP cited project benefits in the filing including annual electricity savings of up to $45 million for Maine customers, reduced greenhouse gas emissions of 3 million metric tons annually and protection against future increases in natural gas prices.
CMP also said the NECEC would support more than 5,200 good-paying direct jobs in Maine plus 4,900 indirect Maine jobs from 2017 to 2022, during the project’s development and construction.
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and Massachusetts electricity distribution companies issued the request for proposals for long-term contracts for clean energy projects in March 2017.
CMP and Hydro-Quebec were among the many companies that responded. The project appeared headed to New Hampshire before regulators in that state nixed it primarily because of environmental concerns. In March, the CMP bid became the frontrunner for the transmission project.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s energy czar, Steven McGrath, said at the time that his boss would “push this right through” the rest of the permitting process handled by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
The Maine PUC also is reviewing the proposed project, including conducting a detailed analysis in May and June and holding public hearings on Aug. 6-8. The PUC is scheduled to review legal briefs in August.
The PUC is expected to announce its decision on the project at the end of September or early October, according to PUC Administrative Director Harry Lanphear.
“We are still wending our way through the regulatory process at the PUC and DEP. I hope that sometime soon we will conclude our agreement with the communities around the Kennebec [River] Gorge, so people can see the nature of the proposed package of benefits,” said CMP spokesman John Carroll.
Carroll told Maine Public that CMP will try to mitigate any effects of the new transmission line on scenic areas, and may even consider digging a tunnel under the Kennebec River Gorge, which is in a pristine wilderness area.
Carroll said CMP already has received letters of support from all towns along the transmission corridor, except New Sharon. The letters were from boards of selectmen, councilors or commissioners. He said the New Sharon selectboard hasn’t put the project on its meeting agenda yet.
However, some intervenors, or parties who joined the PUC case to offer opinion, disagree with the benefits CMP cites both for the environment and ratepayers.
Calpine Corp. and Vistra Energy Corp. of Houston, Texas, and Bucksport Generation LLC of Maine filed a joint statement citing experts who said the carbon dioxide emissions from NECEC’s electric power generation would either provide no benefit or may produce higher emissions. They also questioned whether Maine ratepayers would see monetary savings, and said the project might overload existing power facilities in Maine.
That might prevent the development of new renewable generation in Maine, wrote Tanya Bodell, executive director of Boston-based energy service company Energyst Advisors.
More information on the project and filings is available on the PUC’s website.
CMP’s Carroll said he expected the filings by intervenors, which were due on April 30. He’s said the detailed analysis due from the PUC in June will more precisely lay out the timeline for the proposed project.
CMP also is moving ahead with contract negotiations with Massachusetts electricity distribution companies, Carroll said. The Massachusetts distribution companies asked to extend the April 25 contract deadline because they got delayed by unexpected winter storms and the switch from the New Hampshire to the Maine project. They said they are committed to negotiating in good faith on prices, terms and conditions.
“These are complex contracts that will stretch out for 20 years,” he said. “They require care and attention, but all parties are committed to bringing them to a close as quickly as can reasonably be done given the Commonwealth’s [Massachusetts’] interest in a timely conclusion to this phase of the process.”
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