If you want to build a massive power line through northern New England, it sure helps to get the Conservation Law Foundation on board.
The powerful Boston-based group waged war on Eversource’s Northern Pass. The CLF isn’t the only reason the New Hampshire project remains stuck. But its opposition didn’t help Eversource.
Now, the debate is focused on western Maine, where the Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power wants to build a 145-mile transmission line to bring hydropower from Canada to Massachusetts — the backup option when Northern Pass didn’t pan out last year.
Negotiations have wrapped up for a settlement that would be filed as soon as Thursday with Maine regulators, one that includes blessings from the CLF and another environmental group, the Acadia Center.
And the new governor appears ready to endorse the plan. While Janet Mills voiced skepticism on the campaign trail last year about the New England Clean Energy Connect project, her public stance has shifted in recent weeks amid the settlement talks, and the Bangor Daily News reports that she is supportive now. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman said the governor is encouraged by the progress being made toward a deal that would provide long-term benefits for Maine residents.
Terms of the proposed settlement leaked to the press earlier this month. In a rough sketch, the settlement is valued at more than $250 million, mostly consisting of rate relief for Maine customers over 40 years. The package includes tens of millions for other niceties: broadband upgrades, heat pump installations, electric vehicles.
Representatives of Acadia and the CLF declined to talk about specifics, saying they need to wait until the document is filed with the state’s Public Utilities Commission. The settlement could prove to be pivotal in that agency’s review.
The CLF issued a brief statement on behalf of president Bradley Campbell, saying the project has the potential “to be a major win” for the climate and for families and businesses throughout New England. Central Maine Power, Campbell said, appears willing to make the necessary concessions to generate broad support.
Not everyone agrees. At least one environmental group remains steadfastly opposed. The Natural Resources Council of Maine released its own breakdown of the settlement on Wednesday, saying supporters are inflating the value of the benefits, in large part by spreading out rate relief over four decades. The council figures the deal will save residential ratepayers, on average, a paltry six cents a month.
The settlement is also expected to deal with power-line congestion issues. But Dylan Voorhees, the group’s clean energy director, says he remains concerned that it could crowd out worthy renewable energy projects.
Voorhees’s environmental group has an important ally in this fight, the New England Power Generators Association. Like Voorhees, NEPGA president Dan Dolan worries about the favored treatment the power line would get through long-term contracts with Massachusetts utilities. More power plants could be forced to close.
A Central Maine Power spokesman declined to divulge settlement details but said any extra costs would not be shouldered by Massachusetts ratepayers. He said the permitting process is on track for construction to start by early next year.
The $950 million project was picked about a year ago to bring up to 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectricity to Massachusetts from the Canadian power company Hydro-Quebec. The contracts remain under review by Massachusetts regulators.
Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power know they have to pay a price to run what amounts to a giant extension cord through Maine. We’ll soon learn whether that price will be good enough for them to get the approvals they need.