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New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), US [free access]

June 10, 2020

Developers: Central Maine Power (CMP), a subsidiary of Avangrid


Project details and status: The proposed project will provide a new link through a ±320 kV high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line between Hydro-Québec and the New England grid. In Maine, the line will begin at the Canadian border in western Somerset County and run 145 miles (234 km) to a new alternating current (AC)/direct current (DC) converter station in Lewiston. The new line, in combination with additional smaller improvements at various facilities in Maine, will have the capacity to deliver up to 1,200 MW of power from Hydro-Québec to Massachusetts.


In September 2017, CMP applied for a presidential permit to develop and operate the project. The project received approval form Somerset county regulators in January 2018.


In February 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) selected the NECEC project as an alternative to the Northern Pass project, which was selected by the former following the competitive bidding process in January 2018 in response to its request for proposal (RfP) to deliver 9.45 TWh of clean energy to the state. The DOER took this decision after the rejection of the Northern Pass project by the New Hampshire State Evaluation Committee (SEC), due to the concerns regarding its likely impacts on local business, tourism and development in the region, especially in the northern part of the state.


However, in March 2018, several environmental groups, local power generators and a bipartisan group of legislators opposed the development of the project stating that the line would not provide any additional economic benefits to the residents of the state.


In June 2018, CMP announced its plan to invest around USD22 million in conservation and nature-based tourism projects in western Maine under its NECEC project, as a mitigation measure for the negative impacts of the transmission line crossing over the Kennebec River Gorge. The Lewiston City Council approved the project in June 2018 owing to its possible benefits, including an expansion of the city’s tax base and mitigation of the property tax rates in the region.


During the same month, Canadian Hydro-Quebec, CMP entered into a 20-year deal with the Massachusetts electric distribution companies (EDCs) for the NECEC project, to allow Hydro-Quebec to transmit about 9.45 TWh of electricity to the US via its transmission lines. Following this, in July 2018, Massachusetts DOER forwarded the distribution contract associated with the project to the Bay State Department of Public Utilities for their final approval.


In August 2018, CMP announced USD50 million provisions over a 40-year period to help lower electricity bills of the low-income residents of Massachusetts, under the project. The amount will be provided for several of the state’s programmes and initiatives, as a condition of winning the bid to build the high voltage transmission line from Quebec through Maine.


In October 2018, CMP announced its plans to bury a portion of the NECEC project under the Kennebec River Gorge, instead of installing overhead lines. The announcement had been made in the light of ongoing opposition against the project from environmentalists and local activists in the region; and will lead to an increase of USD37 million in the project costs.


In February 2019, CMP held a meeting with the stakeholders at the Maine PUC office, seeking to negotiate potential agreements to benefit Maine customers in exchange for their support for the project. Following this, CMP and Hydro-Québec signed a settlement agreement with Maine's State Office of Public Advocate, Maine's Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Energy Consumers' Group, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and New England environmentalist groups—the Conservation Law Foundation and Acadia Center—offering more than USD437 million in rate relief, subsidies and network upgrades in Maine in order to gain support for the NECEC project.


With the rising opposition against the project, in March 2019 Franklin County in western Maine withdrew its support for the NECEC project due to its likely irreversible damage to the environment.


In April 2019, the project received approval from Maine PUC following the recommendations of its staff.


In May 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to restart its Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting process for the NECEC project, while citing alleged flaws in the former-led ongoing federal review of the project. Following this, the EPA told USACE to issue a revised public notice providing consolidating project information, and to restart its evaluation of the project from the beginning. In particular, the EPA urged USACE to consider alternative routes, border crossings, and the burying of the project's power lines along existing roads. The EPA noted that any higher construction costs associated with potentially less-environmentally damaging alternatives, including the burying of power lines, would be, at least, partially offset by a reduction in compensatory mitigation costs related to reduced project impacts.


In June 2019, Maine House of Representatives voted in favor of Legislative Document (LD) 1383 or House Paper (HP) 1004, which includes amendments in Maine's municipal land use and eminent domain laws regarding transmission and distribution utilities. This mandates that electric utilities should obtain approval from local governments, before using eminent domain to acquire private land for the development of transmission projects in the state. The decision is likely to impact the development of the NECEC project.


Following this, in August 2019, Select Board of Woolwich Town, Maine, announced to reconsider its decision to support the NECEC project due to its likely impact on the region. Twelve towns had voted outright to oppose the project considering its likely impact on the local economy and residents.


With the rising opposition, the Maine Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) in September 2019 postponed its decision on the NECEC project. During its meeting on September 11, the former failed to announce any decision on the project, which has been facing strong opposition from the local residents due to the likely negative impacts of HVDC transmission line.


Amidst of rising opposition, CMP in October 2019 proposed changes in the line route of the NECEC project. It submitted its application with the Maine's LUPC to reopen its application and amend its proposed 145-mile (234 km) power line route, to bypass the government-protected Beattie Pond near the Canadian border in Franklin County for the project. As per the developer, amendments in the route will increase the cost of the project by USD950,000, (originally, the cost of the project was USD1.1 billion) and delay the permitting process.


Opponents of the project in December 2019, urged the USACE to perform a full EIS review of the project. This is likely to delay the project by one year.


During the same month, the staff of Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) of Maine issued a memorandum containing a draft decision on the project. Under this, the staff allowed the project to go through subdistricts, including the Kennebec River and Appalachian Trail, and also concludes that it complies with all applicable land use standards, with conditions related to public health, safety and general welfare; and traffic.


In January 2020, CMP received approval for the project from the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) of Maine


FERC on March 13 approved the proposal to transfer seven transmission service agreements connected to the NECEC line to a newly created subsidiary of Avangrid called NECEC LLC.


In April 2020, NECEC awarded more than USD300 million in contracts to Cianbro, in a joint venture (JV) with Irby Construction, Sargent Electric and Northern Clearing, Inc. (NCI), to build and upgrade transmission systems and securing land clearing permissions for the project. The companies will now subcontract work to other Maine-based suppliers, contractors and consultants.


During the same month NECEC again signed contracts worth USD7 million with four Maine companies, Eastern Forest Products in Casco, Maine Mats in Bingham, Dimensional Timber in Palermo, and Sunset Development Inc. in Milford, for various works related to the project.


In May 2020, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) gave conditional approval for the project. The approval contains a set of conditions to minimise the environmental impact of the project, and requires extensive land conservation and habitat protection plans.


Later during the same month CMP filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court against the Secretary of State, Maine. The grievance is over an approved voter referendum that seeks to let citizens decide whether the NECEC is in the public interest.


Originally, the project was scheduled to become operational in 2023.