Business

Developer agrees to pay $284 million to help clean Lake Champlain

A project that would bring Canadian hydropower to New England by submerging a cable under Lake Champlain cleared a major hurdle when the developer struck a deal with an influential environmental advocacy group.

TDI-New England said Monday that it would pay $284 million to clean up the lake and promote renewable energy in Vermont in exchange for an agreement from the Conservation Law Foundation not to oppose the project.

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So far, the project is the only one of at least five Canada-to-New England clean power proposals to have such a deal.

The developer plans to spend $1.2 billion to lay a 154-mile, 1,000-megawatt power line from the Canadian border to the Central Vermont town of Ludlow by burying the cable at the bottom of Lake Champlain for most of its route. The project, known as the New England Clean Power Link, could supply up to 1 million homes with electricity after its planned completion in 2018.

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Previously, TDI had agreed to contribute more than $160 million to reduce the impact of laying the cable under the lake, which would stir up sediment and have minor effects on underwater life and human uses of the lake. Still, the new contributions won’t boost the cost of the project because they would be paid out of operating revenue over the cable’s 40-year lifespan, said Don Jessome, chief executive of TDI-New England.

“We’re getting a settled agreement with one of the premier environmental groups in New England,” he said. “That is very important to us.”

Opposition by the Conservation Law Foundation and other groups has slowed down other proposals to import hydropower from Canada. Foremost among them has been the Northern Pass, a plan by Eversource Energy to build 180 miles of above-ground power lines through New Hampshire. Although a government review of the project’s environmental impact hasn’t been released, environmental groups have said it would ruin scenic vistas and risks harming wildlife.

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Christopher Kilian, the Vermont office director for the foundation, said Eversource and other developers have taken an “adversarial posture” over environmental concerns. With TDI, however, he said his group’s “interests were satisfied.”

Whether a project gets built requires more than regulatory approval, said Greg Cunningham, director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s clean energy and climate change program. A project’s success will also depend on whether it can line up a supply deal with power generators in Canada and whether New England policy makers and the regional grid operator approve.

Public support for the TDI-New England project was unclear.

Kerrick Johnson, a vice president for Vermont Electric Power Co., the state’s transmission company that is partly controlled by a public benefit corporation, said the project had “many, many miles to go.” Still, he said, promises of improvements to roads and Lake Champlain have helped raise public support.

“Within Vermont, the on-the-ground team for TDI has done a very good job in connecting with Vermont stakeholders,” he said. “They’ve made commitments of a lot of money on issues of critical importance to Vermonters.”

Officials in several towns affected by the project couldn’t be reached for comment, and the office of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin did not reply to a request for comment.

Other possible ways to tap Canadian hydropower resources include the Maine and Vermont Green Line projects, which have been proposed by National Grid and electric developer Anbaric Transmission.

National Grid and the Maine utility Emera also have discussed an overland route called the Northeast Energy Link that would wind from Central Maine to Boston. The developers plan to provide more details once energy policy makers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut finish hammering out a way for major renewable energy projects to be considered by utilities in those states.

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.
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