Massachusetts Set to Import Hydropower from Canada

 By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Massachusetts is the first state in southern New England to make a deal for hydropower from Canada. The agreement reached with Hydro-Quebec and the utility Eversource is the result of a New England-wide effort to bring Canadian hydroelectric power to southern New England. But the project is not without controversy and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has announced she will review the deal.

The hydro-energy procurement is the result of state mandates for renewable energy and efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2016 the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law requiring 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power and 1,200 megawatts from onshore sources to fulfill a goal of 17 percent renewable power in the state electricity supply by 2022.

The hydroelectric agreement, called Northern Pass Hydro, requires a 192-mile high-voltage power line known as the Northern Pass, which bisects New Hampshire from north to south finishing at a substation in Deerfield, Mass. It also plans to run 60 miles underground through the White Mountain National Forest. New Hampshire regulators are expected to make a decision on the project Feb. 23.

The proposal faced opposition for years from local groups and large organizations such as the Sierra Club of Massachusetts and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).

“Northern Pass’s developers have shown total disregard for the permanent and severe impacts this project would have on communities and the environment," said Greg Cunningham, director of CLF’s renewable-energy and climate-change program. "To sell their project, they have peddled mistruths to the public and to the selection committee."

Healey recently promised to review the bidding process to be sure the Hydro-Quebec/Eversource selection was fair and open.

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee remains a vocal proponent of Canadian hydropower and even visited the energy-producing dams in Quebec in 2013. Gov. Gina Raimondo also supports imported hydropower. The state Office of Energy Resource said it has no immediate plans to announce an agreement to buy Canadian hydropower.

The Northern Pass Hydro project was one of 46 bids to deliver or produce renewable energy in Massachusetts. Providence-based Deepwater Wind was one of the bidders. The offshore wind and onshore solar company has a far better chance of being selected in the next round of bidding, which is only open to offshore wind projects and only three companies have submitted offers to develop offshore wind farms in federal waters off Massachusetts.

The Deepwater Wind proposal, called Revolution Wind, has a capacity of 144 megawatts and 24 wind turbines. Other bids were submitted by Bay State Wind and Vineyard Wind. All of the projects are proposed for federal waters about 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

The Bay State Wind project is a joint venture between Eversource and the Danish wind developer Orsted. Vineyard Wind is based out of New Bedford. All three developers plan to use New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal as the staging area for their projects.