2 key hurdles face Mass. power line to Quebec
A proposed power line bringing hydroelectricity from Quebec into New England via Maine faces two key hurdles in the coming months that could make or break climate change efforts in Massachusetts.
The power line project, called New England Clean Energy Connect, is being financed by Massachusetts electricity ratepayers. If built, it would deliver 1,200 megawatts of carbon-free electricity from Quebec and help Massachusetts back power produced using natural gas and other fossil fuels out of the region. The hydroelectricity from Quebec would also be firm, meaning it will be as reliable as the dams that produce it and not be subject to the vagaries of the air currents that drive offshore wind turbines.
The first hurdle to the project comes up fast on Tuesday when Maine voters will decide the fate of a ballot question that would block the power line and possibly derail it permanently. Polls indicate Maine voters are nervous about climate change but even more wary of the power line, which many view as an unnecessary incursion into their state by Massachusetts. Editorial boards across the state have come out in support of building the 145-mile transmission line, but a poll in early September indicated half of Maine voters oppose it.
The question is expected to be the most expensive ballot fight in state history, with opponents outspending supporters by a hefty margin. Supporters, however, have received significant financial support from a group calling itself Mainers for Local Power, which is bankrolled by three energy-producing companies – NextEra Energy Resources, Vistra Energy Corp., and Calpine Corp. – that stand to lose market share and significant revenues if the hydroelectricity from Quebec starts flowing into the region.
Seabrook is owned by NextEra, the same company that is helping to fund opposition to the power line in Maine. Avangrid, the company building the power line in Maine, has agreed to cover the cost of the circuit breaker upgrade at Seabrook Station, but NextEra has dragged its heels, saying the project is more complicated and expensive than Avangrid says it is.
It sounds like a simple power play by NextEra, but there are some indications the dispute is more complicated. According to Avangrid, NextEra has hinted its reluctance to upgrade the circuit breaker would go away if it received some sort of guaranteed price for a portion of its Seabrook electricity for the next 15 years. Could NextEra be worried that Seabrook might not survive if the Quebec-to-Maine transmission line comes online? The ramifications of that are serious because Seabrook is a key source of carbon-free electricity in New England.
NextEra and Avangrid are at an impasse and Avangrid has appealed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to step in and force NextEra to upgrade the circuit breaker when Seabrook is shut down for regular maintenance in early 2023, the same year the transmission line is due to come online.
In recent filings with FERC, Massachusetts officials implored the agency to intervene. “The fact that in this case a direct competitor of NECEC can thwart a major transmission project simply by refusing to negotiate and agree to commercially reasonable terms manifests a weakness in the interconnection process that must be addressed,” said Attorney General Maura Healey’s office in an October 7 submission. “Not only should the commission resolve this dispute as soon as possible, but it should create a process to resolve any such future disputes expeditiously.”
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources weighed in late last week. “While the commission’s determination may turn on the narrow question of whether a specific breaker may be classified as part of the NextEra Seabrook generating facility or is subject to NextEra’s open access transmission and interconnection obligations, the implications for this decision will have long-term consequences for the ability of the Commonwealth, New England, and the rest of the country to achieve emissions reductions necessary to mitigate climate change impacts,” the letter said.
Major cases at SJC: The Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear two interesting cases on Monday, one dealing with the cost of prison inmate phone calls and the other focused on who owns pictures of slaves taken in 1850 by a Harvard professor who was pursuing a crackpot theory to justify slavery.
— The case dealing with inmate phone calls would settle whether county sheriffs can collect large commissions from telephone companies handling the calls. For years, the commissions have driven up the price of the calls to astronomical levels and, according to prisoner advocates, made it more difficult for inmates to talk with families and loved ones. More recently, however, the cost of calls has fallen dramatically and free calling time is being provided at many jails. Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who is targeted in the lawsuit, has stopped collecting commissions; the lawsuit is now seeking to recover damages from when he was collecting the commissions. Read more.
— Harvard professor Louis Agassiz took nude pictures of seven slaves in 1850, and the SJC is being asked to decide whether Harvard or the descendants of those slaves are the owners of the photos. Tamara Lanier, the great-great-great granddaughter of two of the slaves, says the pictures appropriately belong to her because to rule otherwise would be to continue her ancestors’ enslavement and perpetuate Harvard’s white supremacy legacy. Harvard argues that giving the subjects of a photograph the right to own them would jeopardize the ability of photojournalists and museums to take and display pictures of historical importance. Read more.
Spicer vs. Sisitsky: Trying to stave off defeat next Tuesday, Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer is accusing a super PAC affiliated with Gov. Charlie Baker of leading a GOP takeover of her city’s government. Her rival, Charles Sisitsky, says the claim is poppycock and Spicer is ignoring “facts that don’t support her woefully false and fraudulent narrative.”
— The Baker-affiliated PAC, which raised $911,005 this year, is starting to spend heavily on behalf of 17 mayoral and city council candidates. On Monday, it reported expenditures of $129,020 and on Wednesday it spent another $83,824. A total of $15,915 has been spent on Sisitsky’s campaign. The Baker super PAC supported a Republican city councilor two years ago who, Spicer says, is now backing Sisitsky. Sisitsky, a Democrat, notes he’s been endorsed by key elected Democrats in the city. Read more.
New MBTA oversight: A permanent MBTA board of directors holds its first meeting and sets up subcommittees to handle some of the nitty gritty work. No action was taken on means-tested fares, as the previous oversight board had hoped. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The Senate approves new redistricting maps, despite some opposition. (Salem News)
The Department of Correction suspended 50 correctional officers for refusing to get vaccinated. Hearings on their suspensions and their requests for exemptions are being scheduled. (WBUR)
A group of public health experts and advocates gathered at Mass. and Cass to denounce any forced displacement of the homeless encampment there or move to incarcerate those suffering from drug addiction. (Boston Herald)
Chris Lovett takes an interesting look at the pros and cons of rent control and rent stabilization and what those terms can mean. (Dorchester Reporter)
A hacker accessed private patient information, including medical information and Social Security numbers, of more than 200,000 patients at UMass Memorial Health. (Telegram & Gazette)
Quincy officials are still fighting against reconstructing a bridge to Long Island, which housed numerous social services, saying Boston’s problems with addiction and homelessness at “Mass & Cass” are not Quincy’s problem. (Patriot-Ledger)
Massachusetts has thrown out 13,235 doses of COVID vaccines so far, or 0.12 percent of the total doses shipped to the state, mostly because they expired. (MassLive)
The White House appears to be close to securing an agreement with congressional Democrats on a massive social safety net bill after paring back its reach and price tag to appease moderates. (Washington Post)
The US issues its first passport with nonbinary gender X option. (NPR)
US Rep. Jim McGovern introduces a bill that would require the White House to convene a special conference to lay out plans for addressing hunger. (Telegram & Gazette)
A barrage of outside spending by super PACs is hitting the Boston mayoral race in its closing days. (Boston Globe)
Michelle Wu has assembled a transition team headed by former Boston teacher Mariel Novas, but the frontrunner for Boston mayor is otherwise mum on who is advising her on a move into the city’s top job. (Boston Herald) The New York Times offers up a lengthy profile of Wu.
Old-school Boston City Councilor Frank Baker from Dorchester is facing a challenge from progressive activist Stephen McBride. Baker is favored, but is the electorate shifting this year? (GBH)
David Frum says a Donald Trump comeback is emerging. (The Atlantic)
College students cast ballots in last year’s presidential election at a record rate — with 66 percent turnout, a jump of 14 percentage points from 2016. (Boston Globe)
Boston will take another stab at redeveloping a key parcel in Roxbury. (Boston Globe)
The UMass Amherst computer science college receives $93 million — $18 million from Robert and Donna Manning and the rest from the state. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
The Wall Street Journal publishes a lengthy letter from Donald Trump saying the 2020 election was rigged. (Washington Post)
Shawn Palmer, the publisher of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, writes a letter to readers disputing claims by the paper’s union that employees are being laid off. To the contrary, he says, employees are being hired. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)PASSINGS
Luke Fitzgerald of Pittsfield announces a foundation in honor of his mother, who committed suicide five months ago. But this story is also about Luke and his own personal struggles. (Berkshire Eagle)