Eversource touts N. Pass ‘certainty’
Despite many doubters, company exudes confidence on call
EVERSOURCE ENERGY on Thursday once again insisted its problem-plagued Northern Pass transmission project is on track and the best solution to Massachusetts’ clean energy needs.
In a conference call with financial analysts, Eversource officials said Northern Pass, a $1.6 billion project that would deliver billions of dollars of hydroelectricity from Quebec over a transmission line through New Hampshire, is the best bet for Massachusetts.
“No other project that exists is as far along as we are and has the certainty that we have,” said Lee Olivier, an executive vice president at Eversource.
Certainty would hardly be the word New Hampshire opponents and most of Eversource’s competitors would use to describe Northern Pass. Company officials said on Thursday they expect to commence construction in the second quarter of 2018 and be finished by the third quarter of 2020. But the construction start-date is dependent on the company securing a number of federal and New Hampshire permits. Eversource officials said the permitting process is on track to meet the construction schedule, but the company has said that before, particularly in regard to a key New Hampshire approval.
The timing is tricky for Eversource, since Massachusetts plans to select the winning bids for its clean energy contract on January 25 and execute contracts with the winners by March 27. To select Eversource, Massachusetts officials would have to choose Northern Pass without knowing whether it has the backing of the Site Evaluation Committee. Competing projects, however, are also likely to face regulatory uncertainty.
Olivier said Northern Pass offers Massachusetts a number of unique advantages. He said Massachusetts would prefer projects that could help the state meet its 2020 carbon emissions targets, and he claimed Northern Pass may be the only company in a position to do that. He said Northern Pass could help reduce the electricity sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts by 25 percent, or 3 million tons.
Olivier said Northern Pass is also much further along in the permitting process on the Canadian side of the border. Hydro-Quebec wants to sell 1,100 megawatts of hydroelectricity to New England, and has partnered with three transmission companies on projects to deliver the power. The three companies are Eversource, TDI-New England, and Central Maine Power, each of which is pursuing different routes for their transmission lines. In each case, Hydro-Quebec is responsible for delivering the electricity to the border.
Olivier said, and Hydro-Quebec confirmed, that the Northern Pass project is two to three years ahead of the other two in obtaining permits for the Canadian transmission work. While Eversource and Hydro-Quebec are forecasting a 2020 in-service date for Northern Pass, Hydro-Quebec said the other two projects won’t be operational until at least 2022.
Olivier said Northern Pass cannot incur any additional delays with the Site Evaluation Committee, and he insisted the project won’t. “We have a very strong governor in New Hampshire who supports this project,” he said, adding that the Legislature is also supportive. “I’m very confident we will get our decision,” he said.Benjamin Vihstadt, a spokesman for New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, said in an email that the governor “believes that transmission projects like Northern Pass will bring more energy into our regional grid, which will help lower and stabilize electricity rates.”
But Vihstadt added that “it is worth noting that the governor ultimately has no say over the final approval of the project, considering it is in the hands of the Site Evaluation Committee, none of whose members were appointed by Gov. Sununu.”