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Avangrid accuses NextEra of interference with Maine transmission project

Avangrid Inc. and NextEra Energy Inc. have separately asked federal regulators to resolve a dispute over system upgrade costs associated with Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power Co.'s planned New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project.

In May, the $950 million project — which would carry up to 1,200 MW of Hydro-Québec-generated hydropower from the U.S.-Canada border in Beattie Township, Maine, through the state's western forests — received the last state-level authorization needed to proceed with construction. That approval dealt a loss to NextEra subsidiary NextEra Energy Resources LLC, an opponent of the project with several generation resources in the northeastern U.S., including the 1,251-MW Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire.

Avangrid and NextEra now appear deadlocked over the terms of an affected systems agreement after an engineering study conducted on behalf of the ISO New England concluded that the Seabrook facility may need to install a new circuit breaker to accommodate the new 145-mile 320-kV line.

NextEra ties upgrade with nuke outage schedule

On Oct. 5, NextEra filed a petition (FERC docket EL21-3) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking a declaratory order confirming that it can charge the project's owners for prudently incurred opportunity costs and lost profits while the plant is offline making required upgrades. In doing so, NextEra said the Seabrook facility would have lost about $560,000 per day if a hypothetical circuit breaker replacement project extended a planned refueling outage completed at Seabrook in April.

Citing "complexity and scope," NextEra also told FERC that Seabrook cannot undertake the replacement project during its next refueling outage in October 2021 and cast doubt upon whether the upgrades can be completed during the following refueling outage scheduled for April 2023.

"The actual date for the execution of the work cannot be known until after an engineering study of the project is completed, at which point the appropriate outage for conducting the ... replacement [project] will be identified," NextEra said.

Avangrid calls schedule 'unreasonable'

In an Oct. 13 complaint (FERC docket EL21-6), however, Avangrid accused NextEra of "unlawfully interfering" with the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project while at the same time offering a "substantially above market" power purchase agreement from Seabrook. According to Avangrid, NextEra explained via telephone that the power purchase agreement "would be in exchange for NextEra's removal of its opposition" to the New England Clean Energy Connect project.

As relief, Avangrid is separately seeking an order from FERC directing NextEra to comply with its interconnection obligations under the ISO-NE's open access transmission tariff and commission regulations. Avangrid is also asking FERC to direct NextEra to "cease and desist all attempts to block, delay or unreasonably increase the costs" associated with the new transmission line.

"Waiting almost three years for a circuit breaker replacement is unreasonable and would inhibit Avangrid's ability to interconnect and energize the [New England Clean Energy Connect Project] in time for its targeted in-service date" of May 31, 2023, the company said.

While the high-voltage, direct-current line has been hailed as a win for clean energy in the region, it is still facing organized local opposition. The Maine Supreme Court ruled in August that a proposed ballot initiative aimed at blocking the project was unconstitutional, but local activists have already filed paperwork for a second citizens' initiative to be included on the 2021 ballot.