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By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
The clean energy transmission project that replaced Northern Pass when it was turned down by New Hampshire regulators has reached agreement with Massachusetts electric distributors on a 20-year contract to provide 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy.
The Electric Distribution Companies announced Thursday that they have successfully concluded negotiations and executed long-term contracts with Central Maine Power Company and HQ Energy Services (US) Inc. for the New England Clean Energy Connect 100% Hydro project.
Northern Pass was originally selected as the provider for the Massachusetts Clean Energy project, but was passed over after the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee turned down the 192-mile, $1.6 billion transmission project reaching from Pittsburg to Deerfield earlier this year.
The New Hampshire SEC’s 7-0 decision said Northern Pass/Eversource developers failed to meet their burden of proof the project would not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region, one of four criteria necessary to grant approval for a major utility project.
Negotiations on a 20-year Massachusetts contract were to be finalized by the end of April but were extended due to the change in transmission companies and late winter storms.
Massachusetts Clean Energy announced the agreement Thursday morning. One final step remains before the contract is final. The provisions must be approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.
The electric distribution companies, including Eversource, Northern Pass’s developer, are expected to file the agreement with the DPU in the next few weeks. The other distributors are National Grid and Unitil.
Massachusetts energy officials originally chose the Northern Pass Transmission project with Hydro-Quebec power for the project, but when the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee denied its application Feb. 1, they turned to the Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect project, which also uses Hydro-Quebec power.
“We have made important progress with regard to this ground-breaking 20-year agreement, moving us closer towards decarbonization in the Northeast,” said Éric Martel, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hydro-Québec. “In the coming months we’ll be working closely with Central Maine Power to complete this important new interconnection project which will not only reduce carbon emissions, but will also bring price stability and supply reliability to the region.”
Hydro-Quebec partnered with three transmission projects in seeking the Massachusetts contract, New England Clean Energy Connect, Northern Pass and New England Clean Power Link, a project developed by multinational conglomerate Blackstone.
The Maine project is currently before utility and environmental regulators in Maine and has drawn opposition from some environmental groups, particularly a plan to cross Kennebec River Gorge in a remote area of Maine along the 145-mile route from Canada to Lewiston where it will connect to the New England electric grid.
Recently the project announced an agreement with Western Mountains and Rivers Corp., a Somerset County non-profit, to provide about $22 million in conservation and education efforts.
On Thursday, the president of Central Maine Power, Douglas Herling, praised the new agreement saying it will provide lasting economic benefits including new jobs, targeted investments and expand broadband access in Western Maine.
“We will continue to advance the project in Maine, where it has received strong support from host communities, the governor, the leadership of the State Senate and House of Representatives as well as the business community,” Herling said in a prepared statement.
The Maine project is estimated to cost $950 million.
Two-thirds of the line is along a right-of-way controlled by Central Maine Power with about 50 miles through what has been described as virgin forest.
The project moved through the Maine regulatory process fairly quickly until CMP was awarded the Massachusetts Clean Energy bid. Since that time, a number of groups, including electric generators, other utilities and environmentalists, have intervened in the proceedings.
Recently, the CEO of AVANGRID, Central Maine Power’s parent company, praised the project to investors saying construction would begin in 2019 and be completed in 2022.
One of the key reasons Northern Pass was originally selected for the Massachusetts Clean Energy project was the transmission line’s 2020 completion date, the target in the Massachusetts law establishing the clean energy project.
New Hampshire regulators recently turned down Northern Pass’s request to reconsider its decision to deny the project, but have yet to issue the written order. Once the SEC issues the order, Northern Pass will have 30 days to appeal the decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The case is expected to take about a year before the court issues a final order.
Northern Pass was proposed in 2010.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com