Massachusetts taps Northern Pass for hydropower project

BOSTON (AP) — Eversource’s Northern Pass proposal won preliminary approval from Massachusetts on Thursday to deliver Canadian hydropower to the state through a transmission line running through New Hampshire.

The project, which officials called the largest procurement of renewable energy in the state’s history, was selected from among dozens of bids submitted last year under a 2016 law that called for a significant boost in the supply of renewable energy in Massachusetts.

Eversource said it planned to build a 192-mile transmission line that would carry almost 1,200 megawatts of Quebec hydropower from the Canadian border at Pittsburg, New Hampshire, to a substation in Deerfield, New Hampshire, where it would then flow into Massachusetts through the regional energy grid.

“We had a lot of good options and this is the one that rose to the top,” said Judith Judson, Massachusetts’ commissioner of energy resources.

Evaluators determined the project would provide the “greatest overall value,” to the state’s electric ratepayers, she added. When completed, the line is expected to deliver the equivalent of 17 percent of the state’s current electric load.

Major utilities, including Eversource, were included on the team that made Thursday’s selection. But Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton said an independent evaluator monitored the selection process to assure fairness.

Northern Pass beat out several other competitive bids including the New England Clean Power Link, which proposed delivering hydropower from Quebec through transmission lines that would be buried under Lake Champlain in Vermont, and a proposal by Central Maine Power Company to bring in hydropower through existing transmission corridors and newly purchased rights of way in western Maine.

Massachusetts officials said they would now begin detailed contract negotiations with Northern Pass, after which the plan would go before regulators at the state Department of Public Utilities for final approval.

“The clean, affordable power flowing over Northern Pass into the New England grid in 2020 will provide customers in (Massachusetts) and throughout the region with much-needed energy price stability and emissions reductions and will deliver significant economic and environmental benefits to the region for years to come,” said Lee Olivier, Eversource’s Executive Vice President of Enterprise Strategy and Business Development, in a statement.

The project has run into opposition in New Hampshire from environmental groups and others worried the transmission lines could spoil some of the state’s breathtaking mountain views. But it has the backing of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and several top lawmakers. Eversource and state officials expressed confidence the project would receive final regulatory approval in both the U.S. and Canada.

“It comes as no surprise that Massachusetts agrees that Northern Pass, a great New Hampshire project, is ready to go,” said Sununu, who predicted it would create 1,000 jobs and lower electric rates.

More than 80 percent of the line would run underground or along existing transmission lines, minimizing any impacts in or near the White Mountain National Forest, Eversource said.

The Massachusetts law signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker required the state to solicit contracts for 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy, including hydropower, along with at least 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy.

Three bids for the offshore wind procurement were received in December, with a decision on those expected in April.

The New England Power Generators Association, a trade group that has opposed the law as anti-competitive, said it was “extremely disappointed” though not surprised by Thursday’s announcement.

“Eversource and Hydro Quebec are asking for Massachusetts consumers to guarantee them revenue through an above-market contract for electricity for the next two decades,” said Dan Dolan, the association’s president.

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