By Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
AUGUSTA, Maine — Massachusetts chose a $950 million project headed by Maine utility Central Maine Power to be its backup option for a massive clean energy procurement that appeared headed to New Hampshire before regulators there nixed it last week.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s energy czar said his boss would “push this right through” the rest of the permitting process handled by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but it could set off confrontations with environmentalists who have been cool to, but quiet on, the plan.
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources said in a news release Friday that the New England Clean Energy Connect will be the alternative if the Northern Pass project in New Hampshire fails to win approval by March 27.
Either project would deliver power from Hydro-Quebec to southern New England. CMP’s proposal includes a 145-mile transmission line linking electrical grids in Quebec and New England. It would begin in earnest with negotiation of long-term contracts with Maine electric distribution companies.
In late January, Massachusetts state officials announced they had awarded the project to a New Hampshire-based company from dozens of bids that had been submitted under a 2016 law that called for more renewable sources in the commonwealth’s energy portfolio.
Central Maine Power was involved in two of the losing bids, while another dozen were linked to Maine. But the utility’s fortunes changed when New Hampshire regulators denied the proposal, which would cut through the White Mountain National Forest.
In a statement, Central Maine Power CEO Doug Herling said the company’s applications for state and federal permits “are moving forward with the strong support of communities and stakeholders in Maine.”
LePage teased this prospect in his State of the State address on Tuesday, saying Massachusetts regulators were meeting with him this week. Patrick Woodcock, LePage’s former energy adviser, now works in the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
Steven McGrath, who replaced Woodcock with LePage, said the governor and Maine DEP Commissioner Paul Mercer met with Massachusetts officials on Thursday to discuss permitting, saying “the governor’s going to push this right through.” In its statement, Central Maine Power said it expects to get state approval later this year and federal approval in early 2019.
“My governor is an action-oriented-guy,” McGrath said. “This will happen quickly.”
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, the state’s most prominent environmental group, hasn’t taken a position on the project, but it has cited “significant concerns about the environmental impact of both the line itself and of the sources of power the line may serve.”
Lisa Pohlmann, the group’s executive director, said it wants to be “clear on what’s being decided and why.” Environmental groups have led the opposition to Northern Pass in New Hampshire.
“We’re not in favor of ever ramrodding anything through,” Pohlmann said, “so I guess that’s what I have to say about that until we get some more detail.”