Maine settlement could pave way for Canadian hydro in New England
- Central Maine Power (CMP) and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), along with the Maine Governor’s Office of Energy and several other parties, have filed a settlement agreement with state regulators that could help the 145-mile New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission project ultimately receive approval.
- The NECEC project is designed to connect more than 1 GW of emissions free generation owned by Hydro-Québec in Canada, with consumers in Massachusetts. The Maine agreement calls for CMP to make grid improvements and investments in a range of programs focused on moderate and low income families.
- The endorsement of Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills is a boon for NECEC's chances, but there is still a long road ahead for the project, say experts. A contested hearing is possible at the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and other state agencies must still approve the route.
Mills' administration views climate change as a vital issue, and wants to reduce the state's dependency on heating oil.
"We cannot afford to do nothing," Mills said in a statement issued Thursday, explaining why she directed her office to support the stipulations asking the PUC to issue a certificate.
"I ran for the office of Governor with a promise to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, to address our carbon footprint and to accept the challenge of preventing and mitigating climate change," Mills said.
Greg Cunningham, vice president and director of CLF’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program, told Utility Dive the governor's support was significant.
"We saw virtually no progress under the LePage administration," he said, referring to the climate policies of former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was ineligible to run again due to Maine's term limits.
NECEC will significantly reduce the region's emissions and decrease the reliance on natural gas, Cunningham said. CLF is also watching the siting decisions other agencies will make, he said, to help ensure "this precedent setting project is done right, so it sets the standard going forward."
"You see provisions in this stipulation that have significant chunks of money going towards electric vehicle infrastructure, subsidizing the cost of electric vehicles to make them more accessible in Maine," Cunningham said.
The agreement includes a menu of provisions intended to benefit Mainers, to the tune of $260 million. Programs include $15 million to support the installation of heat pumps and $50 million for energy efficiency, focused on lower-income customers.
There is also $15 million to help advance electric vehicles and charging stations in Maine, and $2.5 million to "develop solutions to enable new renewable energy," CLF said in their announcement.
Hydro-Québec, in a statement, described a "long term partnership with the State of Maine." The company's contributions to the settlement presented to the PUC included $10 million to the electric vehicle fund, and $10 million for switching heating systems from oil to electricity.
Hydro-Québec expects the project to provide "significant benefits to Québec, Maine and Massachusetts, as well as all of New England."
In developing the settlement, CLF said it collaborated with Acadia Center, the Governor’s Energy Office, the Office of the Maine Public Advocate, the Industrial Energy Consumer Group and several other organizations.
The deal did not bring everyone on board, however. CMP said that NextEra Energy Resources, Vistra Energy, Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), Friends of Maine Mountains, Calpine and others, oppose the agreement.
Project opponents question climate benefits
NRCM scoffed at the agreement, saying it offers Maine "much less than meets the eye and is not worth the damage and destruction that would be done to the North Woods."
"The purported settlement would not address the fundamental flaw in the transmission project: it would harm Maine substantially — from the state's forests, waters, and wildlife to local clean energy projects and jobs—without benefiting the climate," the group said in a statement.
The group cited filings to Massachusetts regulators that they say question the demand the transmission line would serve. "Without new generation, there will subsequently be no new climate benefits," NRCM said.
Cunningham told Utility Dive that the next steps could be a contested hearing at the PUC where commissioners would hear testimony. "We fully expect there to be a hearing on this and there well could be active opposition," he said.
There are also siting decisions before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission. And in Massachusetts the PUC is reviewing utility contracts to ensure they are consistent with state law.
According to Mills, the NECEC project could help put the state and region "on the road to a zero carbon economy by 2050."
That, said Cunningham, is the reason CLF is supporting the project. "The disastrous effects of climate change are at our front door," he said.
- Conservation Law Foundation Settlement agreement
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