Northern Pass clears federal hurdle

Environmental statement calls route ‘preferred alternative’

FEDERAL REGULATORS CLEARED THE WAY on Thursday for Eversource’s Northern Pass transmission project to receive one of the two permits necessary to begin construction of a line carrying hydroelectricity from Quebec to southern New Hampshire.

The US Department of Energy issued a final environmental impact statement for Northern Pass, setting the stage for the award of a presidential permit, which allows Eversource to connect with power lines from Hydro-Quebec across the Canadian border.

Officials said the environmental impact statement identified Eversource’s proposed route through New Hampshire as the “preferred alternative” and described the scenic impact as low to very low.

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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 project also needs permitting approvals from the state of New Hampshire, and a decision on those is due sometime in the fall. The project has faced strong opposition from New Hampshire residents concerned about the impact of an above-ground transmission line on the state.

Eversource officials say they expect to have all permits in hand by the end of this year and be operational in 2020. Eversource, in partnership with Hydro-Quebec, has submitted two bids to Massachusetts in response to a request for proposals in connection with a major clean energy purchase.

Hydro-Quebec also submitted bids with two other transmission companies, one of whom, TDI New England, has all of its permits and says it is shovel ready to build an underground and underwater  transmission line from Quebec to Vermont using the floor of Lake Champlain.

  • NortheasternEE

    State and regional mandates for renewable energy are distorting the wholesale market for electricity, forcing coal and nuclear power plants to close. Dirty coal and clean nuclear cancel each other out avoiding little to no net carbon emissions. Power from Quebec will be more than twice as expensive and less reliable than locally generated coal and nuclear power.

    For the last few years our rates have been steadily increasing. This project, and the offshore wind energy projects, will give us skyrocketing rates, no carbon avoidance, and winter power outages. It is time for our policymakers to take a reality check, and stop the push for 100% renewable energy. For the foreseeable future, it’s a step tooo far!

    • QuincyQuarry.com

      While you have points re prices and mandates, the fact of the matter is that coal is environmentally dirty and developing new nuclear power facilities face huge impediments. Plus, nuclear waste storage has yet to be duly resolved.

      Also, continuing conservation via new technology needs to be better factored into things (e.g., setting policy).

      From continuing to shift to high efficiency LED lighting to adopting new transmission loss reduction technologies and all manner of other conservation in between, such energy savings efforts offer not insignificant net enhancements to supply.

      Plus, NOTHING is greener than conservation-derived savings as well as such is also low cost per kilowatt so saved for other uses.

      • NortheasternEE

        I am all for conservation and efficiency. My point is that the clean energy mandates are distorting the wholesale market to replace existing coal and nuclear power plants with new natural gas power and imported Canadian Hydro that is increasing rates without any net reduction in carbon emissions.

        In the absence of the mandates for renewable energy, cheap natural gas would likely just replace coal leading to carbon avoidance and lower rates.

        • Andrew

          costs for wind and solar are coming way down and will be inline with fossil fuel prices. Nuclear is clean, but the capital costs are extraordinary and insurance unobtainable. We have to subsidize the heck out of Nuclear for this reason. Ask the producers and they will tell you. Coal is just getting priced out of the market. Natty gas is just so cheap and fairly clean. If you are that worried about prices get solar on your roof like I do and pay nothing for electricity. The mandates are small for the industry and decentralize-balance out the grid.

          • NortheasternEE

            My roof faces North with little to no exposure to the sun. The rising rates, I am forced to pay, are in part paying for your electricity. The mandates for wind and solar are forcing utilities to buy your solar energy at a loss, and the rest of us are forced to make up the difference.

          • Andrew

            They make most of their money on commercial accounts. I still get a charge each month for being connected. Believe me the energy companies will make their money even if it means buying from the residential and selling to the commercial side. They will in effect be the middle man and maybe the populace could make a buck for a change. Sounds like you are a lobbyist trying to convince me of the conservative pro-business side. Hey, and you could just angle the panels or buy into a solar co-op to offset the energy bill. But, anyway the wholesale market is at an all time low, so if anything the addition of renewables is a good thing – for consumers that is.https://www.iso-ne.com/static-assets/documents/2017/02/20170227_pr_2016_price_release.pdf

          • NortheasternEE

            So, why are rates going the other way? a couple of years ago, utilities filed for a 37% increase and now Eversource wants another 5%. Because wind and solar cannot be depended upon to be available for peak demand, ISO-NE has an additional Capacity Market that pays dirty fossil fuel generators to be available when needed. That and the new transmission lines for wind and solar generators is what is driving rates up and up. You are getting a free ride with your solar power. As soon as the penetration of wind and solar gets above 10% generation, regulators will be forced to increase you rates too.

            Wind and solar are not dispatchable and , as such, need firming support from load following fossil fuel generators. That is why wind and solar add no value to the grid. They add cost for nothing in return.

            Your free ride will be ending soon!

          • Andrew

            OK let’s address one thing at a time.
            1.> Rates are going the other way because corporations want more profit. They are wildly profitable and look at the percentage change in pay of those at the highest levels of the company. Their raises seem to match the increase they want each year from the consumer. And they try to expand pipelines and other stuff too.
            2.> Can wind, solar, hydro, etc. be depended upon to deliver the electricity? Look at Germany. Enough said.
            3.> Of course there will always be a need for fossil fuels in the mix. At least for the forsee-able future. Especially natty gas. We got lots of it. There’s no threat of it going away.
            4.> My freed ride cost me a lot to do – Companies will adapt to the consumer making their own electricity and find ways to make money – there’s no threat there. I’m very sure Eversource will do just fine. And yes, I am sure they will charge me more eventually too. It’s the golden rule. They got the money and the lobbyists. When this happens I will go off the grid if need be. Storage is getting better and cheaper year after year. If the utility can’t compete with me then bye bye. That’s a market economy.
            5.> “Value” – the most overused action word of the business world. (Other than the air quotes I just used). Solar, wind, Geothermal, and Natty gas will work fine together. It has for many countries and we aren’t any different.
            6.> I think you are just jealous cause you can’t get em :)

          • NortheasternEE

            1.> Rates are regulated the Public Utilities Commission. The added cost of renewable energy is squeezing the profit out of the whole business driving baseload coal and nuclear power plants into early retirement, jeopardizing grid stability, and forcing ISO-NE to pay huge sums to gas and diesel plants that run for short periods during peak demand in Winter and Summer.
            2.> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAAUMFd5Btc
            3.> In the absence of intermittent and variable wind and solar energy, running the grid on gas, hydro, and nuclear is not only cheaper, it avoids more carbon.
            4,> The sooner you disconnect from the grid, the better for the rest of us.
            5> “The conclusion: wind farms connected to the National Grid provide low value energy at high cost, and avoid little greenhouse gas emissions.”
            https://bravenewclimate.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/peter-lang-wind-power.pdf
            6.> No comment!

          • Andrew

            You sort of cherry picked all stock right wing arguments against people making their own energy. I say if they can do it then they should be able to. And you just dislike wind and solar, yet they are becoming competitive with fossil fuels. The “grid stability” argument is what lobbyists use to try to lower the mandates. From the few (yes, anecdotal) people in the energy industry I’ve talked to they say that at a certain percentage (like under the 10% you spoke of earlier) wind and solar are great. Especially in summer due to the demand of air conditioning. And hydro and gas can do the rest. These plants can easily pick up the slack. They pretty much do so anyway. So, in conclusion ISO-NE has to just stay flexible and dynamic to meet certain peek time energy demands as in 7PM – Winter nights. I think they can do it economically and will do it without much change in price. It keeps them on their toes anyway and on top of the latest in technology energy management. And hypothetically, if every powerplant was coal and nuclear do you think electricity would be cheaper? I will give you a cent or two per kw, but I know Eversource would eat that profit margin up plus our air quality would suck. By the way do you work for an energy company or something? You are well versed in the lingo. Good debate it is. I think you have many valid points, but to turn around and say goodbye renewable’s and let’s go back to coal and nuclear is a not happening. We just have to keep pace with technology. Turning back the clock probably won’t work.

          • NortheasternEE

            Maybe this article will make you better understand how destructive your rooftop solar panels are to the community:

            https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/11/28/net-energy-metering-are-we-capitalists-or-what/#76d92f752fbf

            Disconnect from the grid or pay your fair share!

          • Andrew

            I do pay my fair share. Think about it, I produce an excess of electrons and pump it back into the grid all day, then at night I pull a few back and use them. I still have to pay a connection fee every month that is meant for maintenance of the grid. that never changes. And I only get the supply rate. So during the day Eversource sells the electrons I made and gets all those fees – I don’t make any money on the transmission/transition/renewable/etc. fees. They are getting something for nothing. So this is why they don’t gripe much about it. It’s just the anti-renewable people that have engineered your limited view argument. I’ve seen it lots, but you aren’t looking at the whole story. (started in Arizona around 2011ish if I remmeber right) And the fact that I have found a way that I can help the grid while helping myself gets you upset. It’s capitalism and deregulation of the energy sector. You want some grid redistribution so we all share the costs? Doesn’t sound like a captal-istic approach, more like a corporate argument in order to keep their antiquated system in place like the phone system before deregulation. ISO-NE has been able to handle the solar and wind and they will in the future. Things may change over time, but this is the right way to do things. Your alternative is ??

          • NortheasternEE

            Your exchange of electrons with the grid occurs at retail prices. Distributers buy at wholesale (average = 3 cents/kWh) and sell at retail ( > 15 cents/kWh). The difference is made up by the rest of us. Eversource has no reasin to gripe as long as the PUC approves the rate increases that cover the losses you create to the system.

            Electricity was deregulated about 20 years ago, with the separation of generators like Pilgrim, Brayton Point etc.. and distributers like Eversource and National Grid. ISO-NE was setup to administer the wholesale market for generators. Distributors were not allowed to own generators. That all worked fine to deliver reliable electricity at the lowest price to the consumer. That system is being destroyed by laws mandating renewable energy.

            https://commonwealthmagazine.org/environment/eversource-finds-a-loophole/

            My solution is simple. Repeal the laws mandating renewable energy, and let the system setup 20 years ago to continue supplying electricity at fair pricess to all. If you want to argue that we need renewables to save the planet, experience so far says little to no carbon is being avoided by the skyrocketing rates.

          • Andrew

            So negative. Yes, the whole world is falling apart because a few people have solar panels… Not. Eversource is doing fine and has plenty of lobbyists to protect them and convince your crew that they are under siege. No matter the situation they will always make money as a middle man. I personally don’t care about the greeness of my system. I do it to be independent and eventually will get off the grid entirely. I’m not a green liberal, more like a libertarian that values the consumer more than the interests of corporations. Solar panels just happen to be good for the environment and I think the grid too (with a little dynamic adaptability like Germany). By the way, the rates aren’t that bad, you just have to shop around your supplier. And another point – Suppliers (power plants) will do what the market tells them and coal is not priced right. Natty gas is and solar/wind is competitive. I have a feeling you work in the energy sector and may be worried about these changes. Change is good. I think if we repealed the laws of mandates and paid only the wholesale rate you would still have people like me getting off the grid anyway. Not sure the companies want that. Well, we got a lot hashed out here. Good stuff.