Maine hydro project clears another hurdle

Status of offshore wind project remains uncertain

MASSACHUSETTS MADE some headway on its clean energy goals on Tuesday, but moving forward on key offshore wind and hydro-electricity projects remains an uncertain process.

A Massachusetts-financed transmission line carrying hydroelectricity from Quebec into Maine cleared another legal hurdle on Tuesday as the Maine Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that had blocked the state from leasing 32.4 acres of public land for the line.

The Maine Supreme Court held that the Bureau of Parks and Lands acted within its authority in granting the lease to Avangrid and concluded the public land would not be “substantially altered” by the project.

The decision clears another hurdle in front of the project, which seemed derailed in November 2021 when voters approved a law that retroactively would have blocked the entire transmission line. The Maine Supreme Court ruled in August that key sections of the law approved by voters were unconstitutional because they deprived Avangrid of rights that had already vested.

Even so, the Supreme Court returned the issue to a lower court to determine whether Avangrid’s “vested rights” came about legitimately or because the company rushed ahead with construction. That case is expected to start up in April.

The Maine power line is a key part of Massachusetts’ game plan to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, largely because it would be capable of carrying a large, steady amount of hydroelectricity on an around-the-clock basis, enough to provide backup for renewables more dependent on variable weather conditions.

While the hydroelectricity project overcame another obstacle, offshore wind projects off the coast of Massachusetts, already delayed several years due to regulatory inaction in Washington, are now facing financing challenges brought about by the war in Ukraine, rising interest rates, inflation, and supply chain difficulties.

Avangrid, the developer of a 1,200-megawatt wind farm, says it needs a higher price for its power to make the deal work. Mayflower Wind has raised similar concerns about its project, but Mayflower backed down after the Department of Public Utilities told the company to proceed with the original contract terms or restart contract negotiations.

Avangrid didn’t back down, telling the DPU on November 14 to give the company and the state’s utilities time to hammer out a new deal. The DPU, which had earlier ruled that out as an option, hasn’t responded yet.