Maine utility: Our hydro project has lowest cost

Maine utility: Our hydro project has lowest cost

Claim is latest in very public battle over MA clean energy procurement

IN THE PUBLIC JOCKEYING for a multibillion-dollar clean energy contract with Massachusetts, Central Maine Power on Wednesday said its project would deliver the largest amount of hydroelectricity from Quebec at the lowest cost.

Sara Burns, president and CEO of Central Maine Power, said her company will deliver electricity from the Quebec border into the New England power grid at Lewiston, Maine, at a fixed price of $950 million, well below the $1.6 billion cost of each of its two main rivals – TDI-New England and Northern Pass.

The three companies all have partnered with Hydro-Quebec, which is supplying the electricity and delivering it to the Quebec border with New England. Hydro-Quebec has said it is supplying power to the three companies on the same terms.

Central Maine Power said its proposal for delivering the power to the New England power grid is cheaper because the electricity will be carried over regular, above-ground power lines along a corridor owned by the company. By contrast, the TDI-New England transmission line will run underground or under Lake Champlain and parts of the Eversource Northern Pass transmission line running through New Hampshire will also be buried underground.

Most state procurements are fairly low-key affairs: Companies submit bids and then nothing happens until a winner is announced. The Massachusetts clean energy procurement has been very different. Bidders submitted their proposals in July, and since then have either tried to generate positive publicity for their projects or disparaged rivals, apparently in the hope of influencing those judging the bids.

TDI-New England has plugged the fact that its project is fully permitted. Its backers have also privately raised concerns about public opposition to Northern Pass in New Hampshire and allegations that Eversource and Avangrid (which owns Central Maine Power) have been accused of driving up electricity prices in the region by tying up natural gas supplies needed by other power generators. The two companies have vehemently denied those allegations.

Eversource has claimed that its Northern Pass project will complete all project approvals this year and finish construction in 2020, a full two years ahead of TDI and Central Maine Power. “By being in service fully two years prior to Central Maine power or any other conceptual project, Northern Pass will deliver hundreds of millions of additional dollars in benefits to Massachusetts consumers and earlier progress toward achieving clean energy goals,” said Martin Murray, an Eversource spokesman.

National Grid, in partnership with Citizens Energy, has two bids, one that would import wind power from Quebec and another that would supply a combination of wind, solar, and hydro power from New York. National Grid has attacked the three projects tied to Hydro-Quebec, saying the hydro-electricity isn’t new power and won’t help reduce greenhouse gases. Grid has even enlisted New Hampshire lawmakers to help make its case to Massachusetts political leaders.

Deepwater Wind, a surprise bidder on the clean energy procurement given that Massachusetts is preparing another procurement specifically for offshore wind, has repeatedly trumpeted the advantages of its project, specifically its competitive but undisclosed price, the jobs it will generate in Massachusetts, and the fact that its electricity will feed into the power grid where it is needed the most – in southern Massachusetts.

All of the companies vying in the clean energy procurement say their public comments are designed to deliver a message to Massachusetts officials as they review the submissions. Burns, of Central Maine Power, made clear that she is speaking out now to highlight the project’s support in Maine and its relative low cost. “We think this is our competitive advantage,” she said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The winning bid is expected to be announced in January. The selection process is being run by the state Department of Energy Resources along with officials from Eversource and National Grid, even though separate arms of the two utilities have submitted bids themselves.

Judith Judson, the commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, said on Wednesday that her staff is focused just on the bids and ignoring all of the company statements and press releases. “They are not influencing our decision,” she said.