Next up, Central Maine Power
Mass. drops N. Pass, opts instead for Maine transmission line
MASSACHUSETTS SHIFTED GEARS on its multi-billion-dollar clean energy procurement Wednesday, dropping Northern Pass because of the project’s failure to obtain one last, key permit from the state of New Hampshire and opting instead for a Maine utility that has yet to obtain any of its key permits.
Officials offered few details of the decision-making process, but they said the goal now is to negotiate a contract with Central Maine Power by April 25. The contract would then go to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities for approval; at that point, details such as price and timetable are expected to be revealed.
In broad terms, Central Maine Power’s project is similar to Northern Pass except it would import hydro-electricity from Quebec into New England via a transmission line through Maine rather than through New Hampshire. Northern Pass, backed by Eversource Energy, became practically a household name in New England because of opposition to its route through the White Mountains. Until now, few have paid attention to the route of the transmission line proposed by Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of Avangrid Inc. of Connecticut.
“A lot of people weren’t giving it much attention because the expectation was the contract was going to Northern Pass,” said Greg Cunningham, a vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation. “They’re now paying attention.”
Cunningham said the proposed route of the transmission line would take it over the Kennebec Gorge, which raises aesthetic concerns and could have potential bird impacts. He said the project would require 50 miles of new right-of-way through virgin forest and the transmission line would travel through the Kennebec River valley not far from the Route 201 scenic byway.
“This is a remote part of Maine, so it doesn’t have the degree of exposure and cachet as the White Mountain National Forest,” Cunningham said. “It’s a different area, but it’s wilder and more remote and arguably more precious.”
Central Maine Power is in the process of obtaining needed permits from the federal government as well as the state of Maine. The project must win approvals from the Maine Public Utility Commission, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and the Maine Land Use Planning Commission. The permitting process is in the early stages. The company said on Wednesday that it expects to receive state approvals later this year and final federal permits in early 2019.
Completion dates will depend on the permitting process, but the transmission line is not likely to be finished before the end of 2022. Northern Pass, before it was derailed, had indicated it could be up and running in 2020.
Northern Pass and TDI-New England, both of which sought to import hydro-electricity from Quebec, were much further along in the vetting process and, as a result, had ponied up lots of money to mitigate the potential economic and environmental impacts of their projects. Central Maine Power hasn’t got to that point yet, which may partially explain why the company said its project would cost $950 million while the other two put the price tag around $1.6 billion.
Once a contract is worked out with Central Maine Power and a price agreed to, the company will have to absorb any new costs it incurs as it moves through the permitting process.
“CMP has successfully built other large-scale projects here in our home state, so we’re confident we can meet our commitments,” said Doug Herling, president and CEO of Central Maine Power, in a statement.
The announcement of the decision to drop Northern Pass and move on to Central Maine Power was made in a one-paragraph statement on a state website with no explanation. Baker administration and some utility officials issued statements about their commitment to pursuing clean energy. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the Baker administration and utility officials declined comment.