Another Setback for Regional Canadian Hydropower

Both the Northern Pass and the New England Clean Energy Connect, above, projects have run into resistance. (NECEC)

Both the Northern Pass and the New England Clean Energy Connect, above, projects have run into resistance. (NECEC)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

News continues to get worse for the Northern Pass project and efforts to deliver Canadian hydropower to southern New England.

On May 24, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee denied an appeal by Northern Pass to overturn the decision that rejected the 192-mile, high-voltage transmission line though the state.

The siting committee initially rejected the $1.6 billion project on Feb. 1 because of concern that the network of unsightly power lines and towers would harm tourism, local businesses and the environment.

According to the siting board, the appeal failed because there was no new information to review. And despite objections by Northern Pass, the positive elements of the application had been considered in the initial decision, committee members said.

"If there were conditions they could meet to approve it, we would have approved it with those conditions," said Bill Oldenburg of the Site Evaluation Committee in a video of the meeting taken by WMUR-TV of Manchester, N.H.

In an online statement, Northern Pass, a joint venture between Eversource and Hydro-Québec, said it remains committed to the project and is considering taking the siting committee’s decision to court.

“We intend to pursue all options for making this critical clean energy project a reality, along with the many economic and environmental benefits for New Hampshire and the region. This opportunity to significantly lower energy costs for customers should be given great weight,” said Eversource New Hampshire president Bill Quinlan. “Large infrastructure projects of this scale often face challenges during the siting process, and we will continue to work with all of the stakeholders to present a project that receives New Hampshire’s approval.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts, which has agreed to a 20-year power-purchase agreement for Northern Pass energy, has shifted its focus from Northern Pass to New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a power-line transmission project that delivers Québec hydropower through western Maine to Lewiston, Maine, and on to Massachusetts.

The 145-mile project has broad community support, including from Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

The transmission system is opposed by the environmental group Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), which says the project will damage 53 miles of forest. The conservation group worries that NECEC won’t receive the same vetting as Northern Pass.

“Rather than allowing Maine regulators to go through the same thoughtful process that led New Hampshire to reject that project, Gov. Paul LePage, through a spokesperson, has vowed to ram the project through Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection,” according to a March 19 NRCM statement.

The Boston Globe editorial board criticized opponents of NECEC for overlooking the 1,200 megawatts of low-emission electricity and the tax revenue it will bring to communities along the route.

The financial benefits are far less than the $200 million in tourism funding and $30 million in annual tax revenue promised by Northern Pass. So far, local taxes are the only revenue promised by NECEC.

State and local lawmakers are now rethinking their initial support for the project, in hopes of increasing the financial benefits to the state. There is also concern over the fact that none of the hydropower will be available for in-state use. Local renewable-energy projects will also be unable to connect to the power lines.

NECEC is being developed by Hydro-Québec and the utility Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of the multinational corporation Avangrid.

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and state utilities are negotiating a power-purchase contract with Central Maine Power for the project. The agreement must be approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. State permits are expected by the end of 2018. Federal permits are expected in 2019.