By Lori Valigra, BDN Staff • June 26, 2019 1:34 pm
Updated: June 26, 2019 1:55 pm
The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has approved power purchase agreements that are key to the proposed $1 billion hydropower transmission line through western Maine.
Hydro-Quebec, which is a partner with Central Maine Power on the proposed line, said Wednesday that the regulator had approved the agreements signed between Hydro-Quebec and Massachusetts electric distribution companies for the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect hydropower project.
The approval comes about one year after CMP, Hydro-Quebec and the distribution companies signed long-term contracts. The regulators’ approval was required after that.
The electric distribution companies transmit and deliver electricity to homes or businesses.
“Approval of the contracts by Massachusetts is an important step toward a clean energy future in the Northeast,” Eric Martel, Hydro-Quebec’s CEO, said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work closely with our partner Central Maine Power to secure the remaining permits necessary for the transmission line that’s needed to deliver that energy, both in Maine and in Quebec.”
CMP received a key permit from the Maine Public Utilities Commission in April. It is awaiting other regulatory approvals, including from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and which are expected this fall. The project also has received a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, according to Hydro-Quebec.
In its Wednesday announcement, Hydro-Quebec said the Massachusetts regulatory agency in its decision underscored that “the energy delivered under the [power purchase agreements] will create steady greenhouse gas emissions reductions benefits to Massachusetts.”
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THE MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES on Tuesday approved massive hydro-electricity contracts between the state’s three utilities and Hydro-Quebec, rejecting arguments from a broad range of skeptics questioning the environmental benefits of the deal.
The hydro-electricity will be produced in Quebec and shipped across the border into Maine, where a transmission line built by Central Maine Power will carry it to Lewiston, Maine, where it will feed into the New England power grid.
The power is firm (meaning it will run reliably and constantly all year long), large (the equivalent of 1,000 megawatts of capacity), and relatively cheap (5.9 cents a kilowatt hour versus the Vineyard Wind offshore wind contract price of 6.5 cents a kilowatt hour). The project is a perfect replacement for the many power plants retiring over the next few years across the region. Pilgrim Station in Plymouth, which closed at the end of May, had a generating capacity of 690 megawatts.
But the decision to approve the contracts was not without controversy. A wide spectrum of diverse critics, from Attorney General Maura Healey to the New England Power Generators Association, criticized the contracts for not guaranteeing that the hydro-electricity delivered into New England will represent net new power delivering an actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the region.
Critics said the power being delivered by Hydro-Quebec will come from dams that are already operating, so the deal with the Massachusetts utilities won’t actually result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the DPU’s 153-page decision focused on how to measure whether Hydro-Quebec is upping hydro-electricity production or just shipping electricity in a new direction.
Healey claimed that contracts negotiated by Eversource Energy and Unitil could allow Hydro-Quebec to decrease its overall electricity imports into New England relative to the historical average and still comply with the terms of the deal.
“The order entirely side-steps the requirement that this contract be incremental to historical deliveries by Hydro Quebec into New England,” said Dan Dolan, the president of the New England Power Generators Association. “That means that any hopes that this would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be little more than an accounting trick.”
Baker administration officials steered clear of the broader emissions debate, and focused on the procurement of clean energy that will techni
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