Federal regulators have tentatively recommended allowing a proposal to import Canadian hydropower into New England to go forward.
The Department of Energy said Wednesday that the environmental impact of a cable under Vermont’s Lake Champlain would be small. Power line developer TDI-New England is seeking permission to build across the Canadian border. The project needs more regulatory approvals before it begins work, however, and work won’t finish until 2018, according to the Energy Department.
“Those permits are moving forward,” said Don Jessome, the chief executive of TDI-New England. He said he expects the project, called the New England Clean Power Link, to be fully permitted by the end of the year.
TDI’s $1.2-billion proposal would involve burying 154 miles of cables under Lake Champlain and over land in Vermont. It is one of several proposed transmission projects to bring non-fossil fuel electricity into New England. Other proposals include an undersea cable from Maine backed by National Grid , an overland transmission route supported by Eversource , and a joint proposal by National Grid and Emera, a Maine utility.
Several issues were raised in public comments regarding the Clean Power Link, according to the Energy Department, and the report released Wednesday said they mostly wouldn’t have great or lasting effects on wildlife or human activity. Sediment stirred up by digging under the lake would settle, the report said, and heat or magnetic fields generated by the power line would not damage the ecosystem.
Competing bids to solve New England’s energy crunch might pose a larger challenge. Proponents of natural gas pipeline projects have argued that Canadian hydropower could fall short in the winter, and could be diverted to supply domestic demand in Quebec. Jessome argued that Canada still has power to export during the winter, however, and said “several” electricity suppliers have shown interest in long-term supply commitments. He declined to name them, citing confidentiality agreements.
“If they have a long-term contract where supply in the winter is important, they are happy to sign those contracts,” he said.
Additionally, power companies have voiced concerns over a bid solicitation for clean energy projects by Massachusetts and other New England states. The New England Power Generators Association has said state support would make it easier for utilities such as National Grid and Eversource to buy Canadian hydropower. Those same companies have proposed building transmission lines that would bring that power into the United States, which the generators’ group said could pose a conflict of interest.