Quebec-to-New England line clears hurdle in Mass.

Source: Saqib Rahim, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Officials under Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) yesterday announced progress on a proposed power line to Quebec that the state says would make nearly half its power portfolio renewable.

The state Department of Energy Resources, or DOER, yesterday recommended that utility regulators approve contracts to buy power from the New England Clean Energy Connect 100% Hydro (NECEC) project. It’s one of the most important commercial milestones NECEC must pass in order to become the anchor clean energy project that Baker has envisioned.

“[B]y providing firm delivery of clean hydroelectric generation, the NECEC Project will be particularly beneficial during the winter months when the region experiences high energy prices due to reliance on natural gas for both electricity and heating,” DOER said in a letter to the state’s Department of Public Utilities yesterday.

Baker is trying to find a viable project to fulfill a clean energy solicitation from 2017. The winning proposals involved building a power line to Quebec’s cheap, surplus hydropower, and quickly — serving to boost the state’s renewable share and counterbalance higher-cost renewables such as offshore wind.

But as previous experience shows, Massachusetts isn’t the only state with a say. Earlier this year, Northern Pass, the project selected before NECEC, was denied a permit in New Hampshire. That threw off Massachusetts’ desired timeline, and after attempting to salvage the project, the state moved on to NECEC (Energywire, March 29).

NECEC, which is being developed by a subsidiary of Avangrid Inc., would involve 147 miles of transmission in Maine, the majority of it through existing transmission corridors. One potential route would run over a popular rafting spot on the Kennebec River (Energywire, April 25).

Outgoing Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is a supporter, and Avangrid’s stated goal is to get necessary approvals there — from the state Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utilities Commission — by the first quarter of 2019. Avangrid wants to have the power line built by 2022.

But there are stirrings of opposition. Last week, the Maine Renewable Energy Association and New England Power Generators Association said the project would smother power generators in Maine while handing cash to Canada.

“If the commonwealth of Massachusetts seeks to reduce its carbon footprint, there are many Maine-based generators who stand ready to provide that supply. And notably, that supply will directly benefit our local and state economies with clean, indigenous sources,” said Jeremy Payne, executive director of MREA.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, it’s now up to the state Department of Public Utilities to assess whether NECEC is a good deal for state ratepayers.

DOER, which is part of Baker’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, argued that it would be “extremely beneficial.” The project would jack up Massachusetts’ “clean” energy share to 47 percent and would “significantly contribute” to hitting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions targets under state law, DOER said.

DOER also argued that the power would reduce power bills in Massachusetts. The hydropower would be cheaper than projected prices for the wholesale market, DOER argued, and it would offset pricier fuel such as oil and liquefied natural gas.