State’s 3 utilities will decide fate of N. Pass
Eversource will be sitting on both sides of the table
THE DECISION ON WHETHER Massachusetts should stay the course with Northern Pass or move on to another project will be made by the state’s three utilities, one of which is a partner in the Northern Pass project.
The unusual situation came about when Northern Pass was selected as the winner of the state’s clean energy procurement on January 25 and then dealt a potentially crippling blow on Thursday when the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee voted unanimously to deny the project a permit it needs to begin construction.
Now the three utilities, and not the Baker administration, will have to decide what to do. The situation is further complicated by the fact that one of the three utilities, Eversource Energy, is a partner with Hydro-Quebec on the Northern Pass project. That means different arms of Eversource will be sitting on both sides of the negotiating table.
Peter Lorenz, communications director for the Baker administration’s office of energy and environmental affairs, confirmed that the state’s three utilities must decide if a contract with Northern Pass can be negotiated.
Priscilla Ress, a spokeswoman for Eversource, indicated the utilities may not be driving the process. “This process is being led by DOER and your questions are best directed to them,” she said.
There is nothing in state law or regulations that explains how the utilities are supposed to reach agreement, or whether Eversource, the state’s largest electric utility, has a bigger say than Unitil, the state’s smallest.
The procurement’s request for proposals said a contract should be negotiated by March 27, but negotiations could be called off earlier if the utilities determine a deal cannot be reached.
One of the reasons Northern Pass was selected was because it represented that, if it obtained the necessary permits over the next several months, it could begin construction later this year and complete work in 2020 on a transmission line running from the Quebec border down through New Hampshire.
But with the Site Evaluation Committee’s decision on Thursday, that timetable is in doubt. Martin Murray, a spokesman for Northern Pass, said the company will seek a rehearing of its proposal before the Site Evaluation Committee and will consider all of its legal options if that rehearing is unsuccessful. “It certainly appears to us that the committee did not do its job,” he said.During the committee’s deliberations, one of the members asked the agency’s legal counsel how long it would take for an appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Michael Iacopino, the legal counsel, said one recent case that received expedited treatment took four months for the court to agree to hear it and six months to reach the oral argument stage.