Saturday, March 23, 2019

Maine PUC Move Poses Hurdle for NECEC

By Michael Kuser

Maine regulators on Friday suspended hearings on Central Maine Power’s proposal to bring Canadian hydropower to the New England grid via a 145-mile transmission line across the state.

The move by the Maine Public Utilities Commission poses a significant setback for the Avangrid subsidiary’s New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project. During an analyst call Wednesday, Avangrid CEO James P. Torgerson had said NECEC was close to gaining a certificate of public convenience and necessity from Maine and “on track” to receive all permits and final approvals in 2019.

In granting the motion to suspend by NextEra Energy Resources (Docket No. 2017-00232), the PUC also scheduled an Oct. 31 conference to discuss the additional process and schedule to be adopted in the proceeding.

cmp central maine power necec hvdc transmission line

CMP’s $950 million New England Clean Energy Connect project now faces uncertain delays after the Maine PUC suspended hearings on Oct. 26. | Avangrid

In a joint letter to the PUC on Oct. 24, generator intervenors and others supporting the motion, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), said CMP “has only recently and very tardily produced certain highly relevant documents previously requested by NRCM and the generator intervenors. Furthermore, there remains a substantial risk that other highly relevant documents will not be produced by CMP and reviewed by the parties until after the currently scheduled hearing dates or even the current the briefing deadlines.”

Massachusetts awarded its 9.45-TWh clean energy solicitation to NECEC last winter after the original winner, Eversource Energy’s Northern Pass project, was rejected by siting officials in New Hampshire. (See Mass. Picks Avangrid Project as Northern Pass Backup.) But Maine stakeholders have been mounting opposition to the line since the announcement. (See Maine Lawmakers Signal Opposition to NECEC.)

NRCM attorney Sue Ely said in a statement that “the PUC’s decision to delay hearings on CMP’s proposed transmission line is a welcome acknowledgement that this process has been moving too fast for a thorough analysis of this massive, incredibly complex and flawed project. … At the 11th hour, the company finally submitted tens of thousands of pages of documents that are critical to understanding the climate and rate impacts of the proposed power line.”

Some of the submitted documents contradict statements in the record made by CMP, she said.

The NRCM and generators contend that Hydro-Quebec will divert hydropower from other markets, therefore providing no reduction and possibly even an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

“CMP also asserts that NECEC will suppress generating capacity market prices to the benefit of Maine ratepayers, thus raising the question whether Hydro-Quebec has such capacity to sell and, if so, whether it would clear the ISO-NE” Forward Capacity Auctions, the intervenors said.

“Lastly, CMP claims that NECEC offers winter reliability by reducing the need for natural gas in New England during extreme weather conditions, ignoring the potential increase in natural gas consumption that would occur in New York and Ontario if Hydro-Quebec’s exports were simply diverted from those markets into New England,” they said.