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Mass. Taps Eversource's Northern Pass For Hydropower Project

The Androscoggin River and fall colors north of the White Mountains in Dummer, N.H. Critics of proposals to import relatively clean hydropower from Quebec into the United States worry that transmission lines will despoil New Hampshire's natural beauty with power lines. (Jim Cole/AP/File)MoreCloseclosemore
The Androscoggin River and fall colors north of the White Mountains in Dummer, N.H. Critics of proposals to import relatively clean hydropower from Quebec into the United States worry that transmission lines will despoil New Hampshire's natural beauty with power lines. (Jim Cole/AP/File)

A proposal from the utility Eversource won preliminary approval from Massachusetts on Thursday to deliver Canadian hydropower to the state through a transmission line running through New Hampshire.

The $1.6 billion Northern Pass project, which officials called the largest procurement of renewable energy in the state's history, was selected from among dozens of bids submitted last year under a 2016 law that called for a significant boost in the supply of renewable energy in Massachusetts.

Eversource said it planned to build a 192-mile transmission line that would carry almost 1,200 megawatts of Quebec hydropower from the Canadian border at Pittsburg, New Hampshire, to a substation in Deerfield, New Hampshire, where it would then flow into Massachusetts through the regional energy grid.

"We had a lot of good options and this is the one that rose to the top," said Judith Judson, Massachusetts' commissioner of energy resources.

Evaluators determined the project would provide the "greatest overall value," to the state's electric ratepayers, she added. When completed, the line is expected to deliver the equivalent of 17 percent of the state's current electric load.

Judson added: "This is a giant step forward in procuring clean energy that is cost effective compared to fossil fuels and greatly increases the amount of clean energy we can deliver to consumers in the commonwealth."

Northern Pass beat out several other competitive bids including the New England Clean Power Link, which proposed delivering hydropower from Quebec through transmission lines that would be buried under Lake Champlain in Vermont, and a proposal by Central Maine Power Company to bring in hydropower through existing transmission corridors and newly purchased rights of way in western Maine.

Massachusetts officials said they would now begin detailed contract negotiations with Northern Pass, after which the plan would go before regulators at the state Department of Public Utilities for final approval.

"The clean, affordable power flowing over Northern Pass into the New England grid in 2020 will provide customers in [Massachusetts] and throughout the region with much-needed energy price stability and emissions reductions and will deliver significant economic and environmental benefits to the region for years to come," said Lee Olivier, Eversource's executive vice president of enterprise strategy and business development, in a statement.

Eversource and Massachusetts officials expressed confidence the project would receive final regulatory approval in both the U.S. and Canada.

The project has run into opposition in New Hampshire from some people who worry that the transmission lines could spoil some of the state's breathtaking mountain views. But it has the backing of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and several top lawmakers.

More than 80 percent of the line would run underground or along existing transmission lines, minimizing any impacts in or near the White Mountain National Forest, Eversource said.

But Eric Wilkinson, director of energy policy with the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said "this project is going to go through virgin forest, a major disruption to habitat, and it is probably the most environmental intrusive project out there."

The Sierra Club also criticized the decision.

"By choosing Canadian hydro, we will be shipping more of our energy dollars out of the country to purchase destructive Canadian hydro," the director of the group's Massachusetts chapter, Emily Norton, said in a statement.

The 2016 Massachusetts law signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker required the state to solicit contracts for 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy, including hydropower, along with at least 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy.

Ben Downing, a former Democratic state senator who helped write the 2016 law, criticized the decision, saying he would have preferred a selection offering renewable energy from a range of sources, including wind, solar and hydro possibly coupled with electrical storage.

Three bids for the offshore wind procurement were received in December, with a decision on those expected in April.

With reporting by the WBUR Newsroom and State House News Service

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