January 29, 2018

Eversource, Montreal firm chosen for Northern Pass project

Capping a competitive procurement, the Baker administration and Bay State utilities have selected the Northern Pass project, a joint effort of Eversource and Hydro-Quebec to bring hydropower from Canada to Massachusetts.

The project was one of about 40 bids submitted under provisions laid out in a 2016 energy diversification law that called for 1,200 megawatts of clean energy generation and 1,600 megawatts of offshore renewable energy.

"We had a lot of good options and this is the one that rose to the top," Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson said during a conference call with reporters. She said, "It rose to the top in terms of net benefit to consumers as well as its ability to quickly deliver clean energy to the Commonwealth."

Judson declined to specify what the price of the electricity would be, but said officials were "very pleased with how cost-effective it came in."

The Northern Pass project would transmit power through New Hampshire, running underground through the White Mountains, according to a map of the route.

The project would create hundreds of jobs during construction and 80 percent of the transmission lines would be built along existing rights of way or underground in public roads, according to the proponents.

Peregrine Consulting, an "independent evaluator" jointly selected by DOER and the attorney general, oversaw the process, said Judson. State officials said they could not say whether the selection was unanimous.

Not all were pleased by the choice, as environmentalists joined power plant operators to quickly call foul.

Northern Pass lacks necessary regulatory approvals, including permission from the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee and water permits, according to the Conservation Law Foundation, which expressed skepticism the project would be built on schedule.

The environmental group is "wrong," Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan told reporters in a conference call Thursday afternoon. The project already has received federal permits, including the U.S. Forest Service go-ahead to bury cables in the White Mountains, and the site evaluation committee is scheduled to conclude deliberations on the permit by Feb. 23, Quinlan said. He said, "We're on track."

The deal will be the largest renewable energy procurement in Massachusetts, meeting the state goals around cost and reliability as well as greenhouse gas emission reductions, said Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matt Beaton.

The next step is contract negotiations, and when the contract is finalized it will be submitted to the Department of Public Utilities, said Judson, who anticipates that will be done in April.

Eversource has "made consumers the losers," according to New England Power Generators Association President Dan Dolan, who said the organization is "extremely disappointed, but not surprised" to see Eversource and Hydro-Quebec win the bidding.

The Conservation Law Foundation leveled similar charges that the utility had outsize influence on the selection of its own project.

"Choosing Northern Pass reflects a process corrupted by the heavy hand of our region's largest utility," said Greg Cunningham, director of the Conservation Law Foundation's Clean Energy and Climate Change program. "This decision is a slap in the face to dozens of affected communities and thousands of local residents who have been outspoken in opposing this harmful proposal. Northern Pass's developers have shown total disregard for the permanent and severe impacts this project would have on communities and the environment. To sell their project, they have peddled mistruths to the public and to the selection committee."

Ben Downing, a former senator who helped write the 2016 law, criticized the decision, saying he would have preferred a selection offering renewable energy from a range of sources, including wind, solar and hydro possibly coupled with electrical storage.

"I think it's a missed opportunity," Downing told the News Service.

The project is due to begin service in December 2020, which is around a year and a half after the 680-megawatt Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station plans to close down, leaving a major hole in the state's supply of electricity from fossil-fuel-free sources.

Northern Pass should bring in about 9.45 terawatts of electricity annually, and Pilgrim produces about 5.9 terawatts per year, according to state officials.


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