By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH
CONCORD — The intrigue over who will supply clean energy to Massachusetts customers will move a little closer to resolution Tuesday.
Northern Pass and Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect face a Tuesday deadline to complete negotiations with the state’s three major electric distributors on 20-year contracts to provide 1,200 megawatts of clean power.
Originally, Massachusetts energy officials named Northern Pass as the only one of 46 bidders to begin negotiations with the distributors, but within a week, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee denied Northern Pass’s application because the seven members believed the 192-mile, $1.6 billion project would interfere with the orderly development of the region, impacting businesses, tourism and home values.
After that decision, the Massachusetts clean energy bid selection committee decided to continue negotiations with Northern Pass, but to also negotiate with Central Maine Power.
The committee said it reserved the right to end negotiations with Northern Pass at any time before Tuesday’s deadline, although it has not said whether it has done that.
Both projects would provide about 1,200 megawatts of Hydro-Quebec power to Massachusetts to help meet its clean energy goals.
The agreement reached last month assumes Northern Pass would be able to meet its original deadline of 2020 to begin operations, the date called for in the Massachusetts clean energy law.
Massachusetts energy officials reportedly told Northern Pass it needed to make progress by the March 27 deadline or the contract could go to Central Maine Power.
Since that time, Northern Pass asked the SEC to vacate its decision denying the application and resume deliberations on the project.
Two weeks ago, the SEC instead suspended its oral decision to deny the project and reiterated it would issue its written decision by the end of the month.
Without an oral decision, Eversource is not be able to ask for reconsideration.
Once the written decision is issued, Northern Pass and intervenors will have 30 days to ask the SEC to reconsider its decision.
Once a motion is filed, the committee established a 10-day period for intervenors to object to the motion, which Northern Pass has said it will fill requesting the SEC to reconsider the decision.
The SEC would meet in a week or two after that to rule on the motion. The timeline puts any decision by the SEC into the middle of May.
The negotiated contracts with the Massachusetts distributions utilities will be presented to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities for final approval April 25.
If the SEC denies the motion to reconsider the project, Eversource has said it would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, a process that would take at least a year.
Northern Pass officials have said they believe the company could meet the 2020 operational deadline even if they appeal the decision.
Northern Pass was proposed in 2010 when natural gas prices drove electric prices higher. Since that time the price of natural gas and electricity has dropped but increased this winter with the cold weather.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com