By Michael Kuser
BOSTON — The transmission projects proposed to bring renewable energy to New England all promise fixed-cost contracts, hundreds of jobs, big cuts in CO2 emissions, and millions in consumers savings and tax revenues.
How to choose? That was the question Friday at Raab Associates’ New England Electricity Restructuring Roundtable.
Representatives of five transmission projects proposed in July in response to the Massachusetts solicitation for 9.45 TWh/year of hydro and Class I renewables (wind, solar or energy storage) tried to explain why their projects should be among those selected in January. Contracts awarded under the MA 83D request for proposals are to be submitted in late April. (See Hydro-Québec Dominates Mass. Clean Energy Bids.)
The solicitation is a collaborative effort by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the state’s distribution utilities: Eversource Energy, National Grid and Unitil. DOER Commissioner Judith Judson attended the session, as did Angela M. O’Connor, chair of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, along with 225 others in person and more streaming the event online.
William Hazelip, National Grid vice president of business development, said only his company’s projects meet the key goals set out in the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 and the 2016 Act to Promote Energy Diversity, namely to facilitate the financing of new clean energy resources and to minimize “leakage.”
National Grid partnered with Citizens Energy on the Granite State Power Link, an HVDC transmission line from northern Vermont to New Hampshire to deliver 1,200 MW of new wind power from Canada, and the Northeast Renewable Link, a 23-mile AC line from Rensselaer County, N.Y., to Hinsdale, Mass., to deliver 600 MW of new wind, solar and small hydro into the New England grid.
“The intent of the Diversity Act is clear: It’s about adding new resources to reduce emissions,” Hazelip said. He said leakage — cutting the state’s emissions while increasing them in neighboring regions — would be pronounced with the proposals that rely mostly on existing hydro resources in Quebec.
“Today, the existing hydro is being exported to New York and Ontario,” Hazelip said. “That reduces the use of thermal units and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Using the Mass. RFP to contract for those resources will only redirect the energy to Massachusetts and raise emissions in New York and Ontario.”
Diversity is Primary
Chris Huskilson, CEO of Nova Scotia-based Emera, made a pitch for his company’s proposed Atlantic Link project, a 375-mile submarine HVDC transmission line extending from New Brunswick to Plymouth, Mass., near the retiring Pilgrim nuclear plant and close to the Boston load center.
“For us, the primary word is ‘diversity.’ [Atlantic Link] provides diversity of supply and allows you to access wind in Maine, wind in the Maritimes, hydro from Newfoundland and potentially hydro from Quebec.”
The project would become operational in December 2022 and deliver 5.69 TWh of clean energy per year to Massachusetts at a fixed price for 20 years.
At 5.7 TWh, Emera’s project would fulfill only half of the RFP, leaving room for another project that can provide supply diversity, Huskilson said.
In addition, Atlantic Link terminating “in the southern part of Massachusetts means that it supports the system in the location that really needs that support,” Huskilson said. “The loss of the Pilgrim nuclear plant is going to be something that the system will have to find ways to recover from and the opportunity to connect with this transmission project directly to that location … is a very good opportunity.”
Certainty is Best
Transmission Developers Inc. partnered with Hydro-Québec on the New England Clean Power Link, which includes a submarine cable under Lake Champlain and an overland section to a proposed converter station in Ludlow, Vt., to connect to the existing Coolidge substation. It would bring 1,000 MW of hydropower, solar and wind from Canada.
“The one word for us as we differentiate our project from other projects is ‘certainty’ — on price, on construction, on support, and the certainty of our ability to execute and execute with support, from the governor’s office on down,” TDI CEO Donald Jessome said.
In addition to having all the permits needed for the project, Jessome said TDI also has reserved slots at the manufacturing facilities for production of the cable, which will take a year to produce.
“We know exactly what our project costs and how long it will take and have mapped out every step,” Jessome said. “We know who’s going to be maintaining our project, [Vermont Electric Power Co.] and ABB, once it’s up and running. And of course, we have very good financial backing through the Blackstone Group.”
Focus and Options
Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power partnered with Hydro-Québec on the New England Clean Energy Connect, a 145-mile, 320-kV HVDC line that would carry 1,200 MW of hydro and wind energy from Canada to Maine. The company also teamed with NextEra Energy on the Maine Clean Power Connection, a new 345-kV connection from western Maine to the New England grid with capacity options of 460 to 1,110 MW, allowing varying combinations of wind, solar and storage facilities in eastern Canada and far western Maine.
CEO Sara Burns said CMP “focused on the route, focused on the costs and focused on responding with a strong case that we can deliver. … We focused on giving Massachusetts ratepayers a cafeteria plan to choose from.”
Burns said the company is controlling costs by developing lines mostly on a route that the company controls.
“These cost conversations do not have to be too complicated,” Burns said. “If you’re on the route, it drops the prices. We have the route, have the team, have the support.”
Patrick Smith, vice president for transmission business development at Eversource, said the RFP “did specifically contemplate the use of hydroelectric power as qualifying for participation.”
Eversource is partnered with Hydro-Québec on Northern Pass, a 192-mile line to bring 1,090 MW of hydropower to New England — up to 9.4 TWh/year for 20 years starting in December 2020. Hydro-Québec’s proposals with TDI, Eversource and Avangrid all include two proposals each, one pure hydro and one with a wind energy component.
“Has the cost been compared to the current ISO clearing price for power plus transmission, and are these cost savings below that?” asked Steve Cowell, president of E4TheFuture, which advocates for “clean, efficient energy” for residential customers.
“There are additional benefits beyond the clearing price of the energy,” Jessome responded. “There’s the capacity benefit these projects are going to bring to the marketplace. There’s diversity, there’s the fact that you’re now displacing gas during winter peak periods, so you’ve got a gas price benefit. So, you have to look at [it as] a basket. If you look at it in isolation, it’s not as good a story as it is when you look at it terms of the totality of all these benefits.”