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Massachusetts selects Maine project as alternative to Northern Pass line


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Massachusetts selects Maine project as alternative to Northern Pass line

Massachusetts electric utilities and state officials have picked Central Maine Power Co.'s 1,200-MW New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project as the alternative winning bid in a "clean energy" solicitation if the previous winning bid, Eversource Energy's 1,090-MW Northern Pass project, fails to appeal its permitting denial in New Hampshire by March 27.

Central Maine Power's parent company, Avangrid Inc., announced Feb. 16 the selection of their proposed high-voltage direct current-line to carry hydroelectric power from Canadian utility Hydro-Québec. The $950 million project is slated to run 145 miles from the Canadian border in western Somerset County, Maine, to a new converter station in Lewiston, Maine.

Originally, the Massachusetts bid selection team — comprised of electric distribution companies Eversource, Unitil Corp. and National Grid USA; an independent evaluator; and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources — on Jan. 25 chose the Northern Pass proposal to deliver emissions-free hydropower from Hydro-Québec through New Hampshire into New England. However, Northern Pass had its permit application rejected in an unanimous Feb. 1 vote by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee. The New Hampshire agency denied the permit on the basis that the Northern Pass developers had failed to show that their above ground and buried power lines would not "unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region."

Eversource said the selection of an alternate project struck "a sensible balance by allowing negotiations with Northern Pass to continue, while establishing a backup protocol that can be initiated if necessary."

Still hopeful that the 192-mile-long Northern Pass project has "a strong legal argument" to be reconsidered by New Hampshire's siting agency, Eversource said in a statement that negotiations for a contract with Massachusetts' electric utilities will continue as well as the permitting process for Northern Pass.

The New England Power Generators Association claimed the selection process, and the legislative mandate behind it, of intending all along to choose projects backed by provincially owned Canadian hydropower.

"Once again, Hydro-Québec wins, and consumers lose," association President Dan Dolan said in a statement. "Massachusetts is now all-in on Hydro-Québec, going from the fatally flawed Northern Pass to a Maine project that still lacks virtually all its key permits. All in the name of meeting 2020 carbon emissions reduction mandates."

"Hydro-Québec is asking for Massachusetts consumers to guarantee them revenue through an above-market contract for electricity for the next two decades," Dolan said.

Bob Kump, president and CEO of Avangrid Networks Inc., Avangrid's utility holding company, said a new transmission link between Maine and Québec would deliver a reliable, firm supply of clean energy to help dampen seasonal price instability when high demand constrains natural gas supplies.

Central Maine Power said it will begin immediate negotiation of long-term contracts with Massachusetts' electric utilities in preparing a submission to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities for April. The company further expects to receive all state permits for the project later this year and final federal permits in early 2019.