Thursday, January 24, 2019

Maine Lawmakers Signal Opposition to NECEC

By Michael Kuser

The leaders of two key Maine legislative committees told Massachusetts regulators Friday that they oppose a proposed transmission project that would cross Maine to deliver a large amount of Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts.

In a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, the chairmen of Maine’s joint Environment and Natural Resources Committee and Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee objected to Central Maine Power’s (CMP) New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project on economic and environmental grounds.

The Avangrid subsidiary is set to sign a contract this month with Massachusetts for the state’s 9.45-TWh clean energy solicitation, which was awarded to NECEC — a partnership between CMP and Hydro-Quebec — 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.)

The Maine lawmakers wrote that recent expert testimony to their state’s Public Utilities Commission “indicates that Hydro-Quebec will not produce any additional hydroelectricity for NECEC and will instead divert power it now sells to other markets, such as Ontario and New York, to Massachusetts. In fact, NECEC may result in increased greenhouse gas emissions if markets like Ontario or New York have to use dirty fuel mixes to replace the lost electricity from Hydro-Quebec.”

The lawmakers also faulted NECEC for planning to build its line across the Kennebec Gorge, a “world renowned” whitewater rafting and fishing area.

clean energy solicitation NECEC ISO-NE

New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) shown in orange | Central Maine Power

“It has not proposed burying any portion of the 53 miles of new transmission line, even at this iconic spot that is critical for Maine’s tourism economy,” said Republican Sens. Tom Saviello and David Woodsome, and Democratic Reps. Ralph Tucker and Seth Berry.

AC Better than DC

Among those testifying to the Maine PUC on April 30 was Stephen Whitley, former NYISO CEO and ISO-NE COO, who appeared on behalf of NextEra Energy Resources.

Whitley said that, unlike other proposed HVDC transmission lines in the region, CMP’s project is completely overhead, and that it would be much more useful to build an AC line “that can be looped, serve load and interconnect other renewable generators.” A DC line would not support interconnecting multiple generators located at different points of interconnection along its route, he said.

In addition, Whitley said, NECEC is not traditional utility transmission, but a merchant project dependent on the market. If contracted by Massachusetts, it will execute only a 15- to 20-year power purchase agreement with the electric distribution companies for a DC transmission line that has at least a 40-year life.

“Thus, even if one accepts the purported needs and benefits CMP attributes to the transmission line for Maine and Massachusetts, there is a cliff on those needs and benefits once the PPA expires,” Whitley said.

Fair and Equal

The Maine lawmakers also faulted CMP for offering “far less to Maine than Eversource offered New Hampshire during the Northern Pass process.”

clean energy solicitation NECEC ISO-NE

Maine State House

New Hampshire would have received more than $210 million in benefits from Northern Pass, they said, while the TDI New England Clean Power “project would have resulted in direct payments of $372 million to Vermont for clean water, habitat conservation and clean energy development. CMP has not offered comparable mitigation for Maine.”

They cited other testimony before the PUC that the NECEC project “will suppress existing and future renewable energy generation in Maine due in part to increased congestion on the transmission system.”

The lawmakers concluded: “We are unwilling to sacrifice future development of Maine’s solar and offshore wind industries, which would provide real greenhouse gas benefits and more jobs for Maine citizens, just to provide Hydro-Quebec the ability to market its electricity in Massachusetts.”

Hydro-Quebec partnered separately with Eversource, Avangrid and TDI-NE on three different transmission projects for the MA 83D clean energy solicitation last summer.