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NH board pauses action on Northern Pass

March 13, 2018

After refusing to certify the project once, a New Hampshire regulatory board opted Monday to pause all action on the 192-mile Northern Pass electricity transmission project, a delay that could mean Massachusetts will have to get clean energy via a different project.

New Hampshire Public Radio reported that the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) voted Monday to put on hold its Feb. 1 decision to deny a necessary certificate for the Northern Pass project -- a ruling made orally and not in writing -- until the committee's official written decision is published later this month.

Northern Pass was the first choice of Massachusetts energy officials and utility executives for a major hydropower procurement, but the Baker administration has made plans to switch to an alternative project in Maine if the initial rejection decision of the NH SEC is not reversed by March 27.

Officials from the NH SEC did not return calls or emails from the New Service on Monday.

"We understand the SEC's decision to suspend its February 1st oral decision, pending issuance of a written order. We hope it is an indication that the SEC will evaluate the required statutory criteria, as well as thoroughly consider all of the conditions that could provide the basis for granting approval," officials with the Northern Pass project said in a statement Monday. "At a time when the region needs new and diverse sources of clean energy, it is vitally important that projects like Northern Pass are considered fully and efficiently and without unnecessary delay."

The New Hampshire Union Leader on Monday reported that Michael Iacopino, an attorney for the committee, said that filing deadlines will push the timeline for the committee to reconvene its initial denial of the project certificate into May, a delay that could cause Massachusetts to abandon Northern Pass.

Asked by the News Service how Monday's decision affects the project's future with Massachusetts, Eversource spokesman Martin Murray declined to speculate on how Massachusetts and the state's electric distribution companies might respond to the NH SEC's action.

On Feb. 16, the Baker administration's Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and electric utilities agreed that if they can't move forward with the Northern Pass project, they intend to pursue a major contract with the 140-mile New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project in Maine, which would feed the regional power grid, including Massachusetts.

The state's electric distribution companies and DOER agreed in February that they "will continue conditional contract negotiations with the (Northern Pass) project, with the option of ceasing discussions with (Northern Pass) and terminating its conditional selection by March 27, 2018" and added that they would "enter into concurrent conditional contract negotiations" with the NECEC project.

"This approach is designed to ensure that the ... schedule for March 27, 2018 contract execution and April 25, 2018 contract submission is maintained," DOER wrote in the Feb. 16 update on the clean energy RFP process.

DOER had no on-the-record response to questions from the News Service about what Monday's decision by the NH SEC means for the contract negotiations between the state's distribution companies and Northern Pass.

The NH SEC previously denied a necessary certificate for the project and ruled that Northern Pass proponents "failed to prove" transmission lines "will not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region."

Northern Pass said many of the concerns committee members raised before denying the certificate could be addressed by including conditions suggested by state agencies in New Hampshire or from the statutory representative of public interests in New Hampshire, known as the Counsel for the Public.