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Northern Pass out, New England Clean Energy Connect in as Massachusetts’ preferred cross-border transmission project

A decision by Massachusetts officials to drop its support for the Northern Pass could be the death knell for the controversial transmission line.

The $1.6 billion project, proposed by Eversource Energy-subsidiary Northern Pass Transmission LLC, was to have included a 192-mile long line stretching from southern Quebec through New Hampshire, allowing for the import of 1,090 MW of Canadian hydroelectric power into the New England region.

The line was endorsed by the State of Massachusetts in January before New Hampshire, which represented its last significant approval, stunned developers when the state’s Site Evaluation Committee unanimously opposed the proposal in February.

New Hampshire’s SEC teased that it might be willing to give Eversource a rehearing, but that rehearing did not happen before Massachusetts announced yesterday it would shift its support to the rival New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC).

Still, Northern Pass said it and provincial utility Hydro-Quebec “remain committed to the success of the project,” noting NECEC lacks many of the permits it has already acquired.

“While the decision by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee has caused delay, we will continue to urge its members to fully evaluate the required statutory criteria, as well as thoroughly consider all of the conditions that could provide the basis for granting approval,” Northern Pass said in a statement, noting it could take an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.

Estimates show Eversource has already spent close to $280 million developing and promoting the Northern Pass.

What Happens Now
The New England Clean Energy Connect is being developed by a partnership that includes utility Central Maine Power, energy holding company Avangrid and renewables developer Iberdrola.

Massachusetts officials said they hope to strike a deal with the group by the end of April, after which the NECEC will be submitted to the state’s Department of Public Utilities for approval.

Developers say the NECEC has several significant advantages over the Northern Pass, beginning with its smaller $950 million price tag. The line would also run entirely on land owned by Central Maine Power, with about two-thirds using existing transmission corridors.

Like the Northern Pass, however, NECEC faces opposition from groups fearful that the line and its associated infrastructure would be a detriment to the region’s scenery.

Opponents also claim the NECEC, Northern Pass and other proposed cross-border transmission projects are quick-fix for utilities looking to meet Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s call for them to increase the mix of renewables in their portfolios.