After releasing a request for proposals in March 2017 seeking long-term contracts for clean energy projects, on January 25 the Baker-Polito administration selected the Northern Pass Hydro (Northern Pass) project to move forward to contract negotiations with Massachusetts’ electric distribution companies in an effort to bring over 1,000 megawatts of electricity to the Commonwealth. Less than a week later, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee defeated those plans, voting unanimously to deny a certificate to Eversource Energy, the utility responsible for developing the project. Now, the administration is giving Northern Pass a second chance to gain approval from New Hampshire regulators, but they have chosen a “back-up” project should Northern Pass fail once more.
Northern Pass initially emerged from a group of 46 bids to fulfill clean energy procurement requirements laid out in An Act Relative to Energy Diversity (H. 4568) signed by Governor Baker in 2016. The $1.6 billion project would have brought hydropower through New Hampshire from Quebec, delivering 9,450,000 megawatt hours of clean energy per year to Massachusetts.
However, the administration may have underestimated Northern Pass’ unpopularity in New Hampshire. The committee that rejected the bid cited concerns over the 192 miles of transmission lines that would be built across their state. Worries that the project would ruin the rural landscape, harm the tourism economy, and depress real estate values have persisted since the original project was proposed in 2010.
In an effort to fulfill the clean energy procurement requirements established by H. 4568, the selection committee decided on February 16 to give Northern Pass a second chance to win approval from New Hampshire regulators. The project has until March 27 to gain enough support; meanwhile, Northern Pass officials say they can make a strong legal argument to get the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee to reconsider the project.
As a potential “back-up” option, state officials have chosen the New England Clean Energy Connect: a 148-mile transmission project to be built by Central Maine Power Co. and its parent, Avangrid. The notable appeal of Clean Energy Connect is that most of the line would run through existing utility rights-of-way, hopefully avoiding the type of opposition that plagued the Northern Pass project.
The future of the Northern Pass Hydro project will potentially have critical implications for the residents of New Hampshire and the broader protocols surrounding hydro power delivery in New England.