So much for Eversource’s head start.
The utility touts its Northern Pass power line as the best way to get new electricity from Canada into southern New England. One of the big selling points: the amount of permitting work that’s already done.
But New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee on Thursday voted to extend its approval deadline for the 192-mile line by six months, to March 31. This is the agency’s second extension for the $1.6 billion project. Eversource executives hope they can get their permit before that date. But it’s also possible they could face another delay.
Northern Pass has been discussed since 2010. Why is tacking on another six months so bad for Eversource?
Here’s why: Massachusetts regulators — working alongside Eversource and National Grid — plan to award a huge clean energy contract, probably including a new power line, by the end of January. Hydro-Quebec teamed up with Northern Pass on two bids. But the hydropower giant hedged its bets with bids with other companies.
Smart thinking, Hydro-Quebec. Eversource had wanted this valuable state permit by sometime this fall, in advance of the January deadline. Without it, the company has a weaker position in the competition.
Eversource says it remains confident that Northern Pass can go online in 2020, with construction starting by mid-2018 on a line that will cross New Hampshire. Rivals and critics say that’s crazy talk. Even after Eversource agreed to bury the White Mountains section, Northern Pass faces significant opposition — the kind that could lead to litigation.
Eversource once had a competitive advantage for its signature project. But that advantage seems to be slipping away.
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @jonchesto.