By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — Has the Massachusetts clean energy bid selection committee decided to move on without Northern Pass?
In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage’s State-of-the-State speech Tuesday night, he said “people from Massachusetts are coming this week to see if we are serious about allowing a transmission line that is only about 40 miles that we need (to) connect into an infrastructure that we already have.”
LePage referred to Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect project to build 145 miles of transmission lines to carry Hydro-Quebec electricity to Massachusetts.
Project officials touted the plan as cheaper than Northern Pass and New England Clean Power Link from TDI, which would also supply 1,200 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec electricity, or the Granite State Power Link by National Grid and Citizens Energy, which would supply Canadian wind power.
Last month, the Massachusetts selection committee named Northern Pass as the only one of 46 bidders to advance to the next step to negotiate with that state’s three largest electricity distributors Eversource, National Grid and Unitil on a final contract to be presented to regulators in April.
But earlier this month, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee denied Eversource’s application to build the $1.6 billion, 192-mile Northern Pass transmission project saying it would interfere with the orderly development of the region by harming tourism, local businesses and economy, and property values.
Eversource is expected to ask the SEC to reconsider its unanimous 7-0 decision and if that fails to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. That process is expected to take a year or more, and energy officials in Massachusetts are expected to announce Friday whether to continue with Northern Pass or reevaluate other proposals.
Eversource did not respond to a request for comment.
One organization representing solar, wind and small hydro generators who bid on the Massachusetts contract is concerned the selection committee has already decided to move on to other projects citing LePage’s comments.
RENEW Northeast wrote the committee Thursday saying it shares Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s concern that it be a “an open, fair and transparent process.”
“RENEW is concerned that the Evaluation Team has already rendered a decision to terminate negotiations with the Northern Pass Project and is now pursuing another bid,” wrote Francis Pullaro, the group’s executive director, citing LePage’s comments.
“While that statement does not provide a clear indication of whether the Evaluation Team is conferring with Governor LePage about a different bid, it does create a cloud over the process that reinforces the need for the Evaluation Team to address the bidders to explain the process for terminating the winning bid and reconsideration of the remaining bids,” Pullaro wrote.
Massachusetts’s three largest electricity distributors met last Friday and were expected to announce whether to continue with Northern Pass or reconsider other bids, but they failed to reach agreement and put the deadline off until Friday.
The decision did not sit well with Healey. “It is the job of the evaluation committee, not the utilities alone, to determine next steps and the viability of Northern Pass. It is unclear why the evaluation team was unable to move forward this week when all parties have recognized the importance of swift action. Our office continues to call on the evaluation team to resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” said her spokeswoman Chloe Gotsis.
Although the three distributors could not reach agreement last Friday, National Grid announced earlier this week it had reached agreement with Vermont Electric Power Company to support the Granite State Power Link project’s expansion of the Vermont utility’s existing right-of-way through the Northeast Kingdom between the Canadian boarder and Monroe, New Hampshire. From Monroe, the project would use an existing National Grid right-of-way through the Granite State.
Speaking at the New Hampshire Energy Summit in October Robert Grace, managing director and president of Massachusetts-based Sustainable Energy Advantage, predicted there could be problems with both Eversource and National Grid being on the selection team and making bids, He predicted the battle between Massachusetts’ two largest electric utilities would turn into a “steel cage match.”
But if LePage is correct, there maybe a third fighter in the cage.
Jack Savage, vice president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which opposed the project, described the situation as a dog fight, noting, “This isn’t about energy policy, it’s about money. Always has been.”
Judy Reardon of Protect the Granite State, which also opposes Northern Pass, said it is difficult to understand what is going on in Massachusetts because no one knows how the selection committee scored the projects and how that affects the process going forward.
The Mass. Department of Energy Resources is expected to make an announcement on Friday.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org