Mass. negotiating with second grid project to deliver hydropower

Massachusetts officials are conducting concurrent negotiations with Central Maine Power as well as Northern Pass Transmission for a transmission project that would provide the state with new sources of clean energy by 2020, Katie Gronendyke, press secretary for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said Feb. 26.

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has selected CMP's New England Clean Energy Connect project as a potential replacement for Northern Pass if the latter does not win approval from New Hampshire regulators by March 27, she noted.

Northern Pass would provide firm delivery of 1,090 MW of low-cost Canadian hydropower year-round while NECEC would supply 1,200 MW of hydropower also from Hydro-Quebec's hydroelectric plants.

Northern Pass initially was chosen in connection with Massachusetts' clean energy solicitation process late last year.

But the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee voted 7-0 on February 1 to reject the company's application for a 192-mile, $1.6 billion transmission line, questioning whether the project was in the public interest of that state's residents. (Northern Pass officials said they plan to appeal the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee's decision).

Subsequently, Massachusetts DER added the $950 million CMP project as a potential replacement for Northern Pass.

According to Gronendyke, both project developers on February 15 accepted the state's invitation to "enter into concurrent conditional contract negotiations," which she said are under way.

Massachusetts has given Northern Pass until March 27 to receive approval from New Hampshire. If no agreement comes by then, Massachusetts has the option of ceasing discussions with the company and terminating its conditional selection, she said.

The timetable was outlined in last year's official request for proposals that envisioned contract execution by March 27 with April 25 as the anticipated deadline for submitting executed contracts to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities for final approval.

This approach is designed to ensure that the RFP schedule is maintained, "while ensuring that any contract entered into by [local distribution companies] reflects the original project timeline proposed by the bidder," Gronendyke added.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito both support the state's embrace of clean energy resources.

"The Baker-Polito administration is pleased with this announcement the Commonwealth is progressing toward securing the largest amount of renewable energy in Massachusetts' history and will continue to pursue effective strategies to reduce carbon emissions consistent with the Global Warming Solutions Act," EEA spokesman Peter Lorenz said.

Massachusetts is seeking nearly 9.5 million MWh of renewable energy annually to comply with the Act, approved two years ago.

Doug Herling, CMP president and CEO, said his company's applications for state and federal permits are "moving forward with the strong support of communities and stakeholders in Maine. We believe the NECEC is a cost-effective response to Massachusetts' needs, and given our experience building projects of greater scale and complexity here in our home state, we're confident we can meet our commitments to the Commonwealth."

It is unclear if the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee plans to reconsider its Northern Pass decision by March 27. Northern Pass also could appeal the committee's decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, but has not yet done so.

Northern Pass was one of dozens of projects proposed in response to last year's solicitation. The Northern Pass Transmission Line Project bid was submitted by Eversource and Hydro-Quebec.

Eversource is New Hampshire's largest electric utility, serving more than 500,000 homes and businesses in 211 cities and towns.