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National Grid proposes 1,200-MW New England transmission project

National Grid plc has proposed building the Granite State Power Link transmission project in New Hampshire and Vermont to bring up to 1,200 MW of "clean energy" from Quebec into New England.

National Grid announced on March 28 plans to build the 58-mile, high-voltage, direct current overhead line in Vermont parallel to an existing HVDC line in an expanded right-of-way corridor from the U.S.-Canada border at Norton, Vt., through Essex and Caledonia counties to a proposed converter station on utility-owned property just across the state line in Monroe, N.H. In order to accommodate additional power flow from the new line, the approximately $1 billion project will also require upgrades to 107 miles of an existing overhead alternating current line from Monroe to a proposed switching station in southern New Hampshire.

John Flynn, National Grid senior vice president of business development, said in a news release that the utility believes the project reflects customers' needs and demands for cleaner, cheaper and more efficient electricity. According to the developer, the HVDC line is expected to lower energy costs by $1.1 billion over ten years across ISO New England's electricity market. If built, National Grid said the Granite State Power Link would be funded as a commercial project by it and its investors, including Citizens Energy, a Boston-based nonprofit.

Northern Pass competition

The proposal's unveiling comes a day after the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission rejected a request of approval for a proposed 20-year power purchase agreement between Eversource Energy and Hydro-Québec to resell 100 MW from Eversource's proposed Northern Pass transmission line. The commission ruled that the power supply contract would violate the state's electric restructuring laws. Eversource maintains that the PPA is not a requirement of the state siting process.

Opponents of Eversource's $1.6 billion Northern Pass project to deliver 1,090 MW of hydropower from Quebec into New England were quick to link National Grid's announcement to the setback for Northern Pass.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, or the Forest Society, prompted Eversource to change its plans and bury 60 miles of its Northern Pass line as a means of preserving scenic mountain views. In an online analysis, the society did not take a position on the Granite State Power Link but noted that the new project is likely to compete against Northern Pass in Massachusetts' upcoming request for proposals solicitation in April for 9.45 TWh of hydroelectricity a year as mandated by recent legislation.

"They're facing stiff competition for the upcoming Massachusetts RFP," wrote Jack Savage, vice president of communications and outreach for the Forest Society. "As part of our long-standing objections to Northern Pass as proposed, the Forest Society has repeatedly asked why, if New England wants to avail itself of more power from Quebec, the existing National Grid transmission corridor couldn't be used. We finally have the straight answer: It can."

Northern Pass is still undergoing federal and state permitting processes, with an anticipated in-service date of late 2019. The mostly overhead Northern Pass line is intended to run 192 miles from the Des Cantons substation in Québec to a converter station in Deerfield, N.H.

Amid all of this, three aboriginal Canadian leaders condemned Northern Pass at a March 31 Yale University conference and said Hydro-Quebec is attempting to export hydropower unconstitutionally acquired from the Innu tribe over the transmission project. Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, and others said the hydro facilities, the last of which were completed in 1978, were built illegally without impact assessments, authorization or compensation.

The tribal leaders also claimed that the Northern Pass project's use of hydropower will also worsen the degradation of Quebec's Betsiamites River and accused Hydro-Quebec of lying about the conservation of Atlantic salmon in the river and of the displacement of Pessamit Innu families during the construction of hydropower facilities.

"The New Hampshire line project will have absolutely no impact on the Betsiamites River," responded Geneviève Chouinard, a spokesperson with Hydro-Quebec, in an email. "We are astonished by the accusations being made, because we strictly control the flow rates of the Betsiamites in keeping with the parameters agreed upon with the [Pessamit Innu Council] with a view to restoring the salmon in the river."

"No matter what the demand for electricity, Hydro-Québec follows the same strict operational rules determining permissible flow variations and water levels that must be maintained for each of its 62 hydropower generating stations regardless of the volume of its electricity exports at any given time," said Chouinard.