Governor Charlie Baker is making a big bet on Northern Pass.
The Baker administration and reps for the state’s three big electric utilities — Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil — just picked Eversource’s Northern Pass power line to deliver enough clean energy to power more than 1 million homes from Hydro-Quebec’s dams in Canada. It’s not lost on the critics that Eversource played a key role in making the decision that steered these contracts to its own project, but state officials insist this was an arm’s length transaction.
Officials in the Baker administration know there will be blowback. This was the most controversial big project in the mix. But they say the rival proposals — the Blackstone Group’s underground and underwater power line through Vermont, for example — also have their own regulatory risks. They say that the Northern Pass/Hydro-Quebec bid was considered cost effective once the $1.6 billion expense of building the power line and buying Hydro-Quebec’s power at a still-undisclosed price was weighed against the costs for the rival bids.
Eversource officials hope to obtain a long-delayed permit from New Hampshire’s siting agency next month for the 192-mile, mostly above-ground power line. Fortunately for Eversource, Governor Chris Sununu has been in its corner. But the utility also faces the possibility of appeals and litigation that could make the twin goals of starting construction this year and finishing by the end of 2020 tough to accomplish.
Yes, it’s a gamble. But the Baker administration argues that this is a calculated risk that will pay off for Massachusetts ratepayers.Jon Chesto is a Globe reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.