CMP - Hydro Quebec Update, Public Comment

You’ve surely heard plenty of chatter about the Central Maine Power Company / Hydro Quebec power line. It is called New England Clean Energy Connect, or NECEC.  The project is presently seeking approvals in Maine from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as well as the Massachusetts utility regulator. It is a big deal, and it has elicited vehement opposition in Maine that is reminiscent of fights like Maine Yankee, clear cutting, Big-A, Lily Bay and Bigelow Preserve. Some observers even see uncanny parallels to the “water wars” of 100 years ago, when Governors Baxter and Fernald fought with CMP founder Walter Wyman over his plans to electrify southern New England at rural Maine’s peril. 

This is an FMM update, followed by a call to action asking you to submit comment. 

NECEC proposes to deliver 1200 megawatts of power from Quebec through Maine to satisfy a Massachusetts policy initiative that drew dozens of bids in an RFP process. Massachusetts and the New England grid system (ISO-NE, of which Maine is a member) need to fill a void resulting from the retirement over a decade of several reliable power plants that collectively generate at least 5000 megawatts.  

It was welcome news for Maine that Massachusetts awarded the bid to big hydro rather than the scores of Maine wind “farms” that submitted proposals. Of course, wind cannot provide the base load or peak load power that is urgently needed to avoid huge cost spikes and “rolling blackouts” that the ISO-NE has been warning us about. The fact that hydro is clean (or relatively clean) energy was a bonus for us, because Maine sits at the tailpipe of America.  

NextEra Energy Resources (NEER) is an intervenor in the PUC’s NECEC Case. NEER is adamantly against the NECEC line, as NEER has plans for several wind projects in Western Maine.  See NEER submission showing where it wants new converter stations to accommodate its numerous wind & solar proposals. Of course, the wind lobby is against NECEC because a HVDC line would exclude adjacent wind projects from connecting to it, absent very costly converter stations… none of which should not be a consideration for the PUC in this case. NEER has submitted RFP responses in Southern New England for almost 500 MW in Maine wind projects.  

NextEra is one of many wind developers hoping to tank the NECEC

NextEra is one of many wind developers hoping to tank the NECEC

 NEER also owns Seabrook Station, and if NECEC results in a fraction of a penny reduction in ISO-NE energy costs, Seabrook could take a multi-million dollar haircut annually. 

 The PUC case has gone on for a year, but NEER is doing its best to gum up the works. This week, NEER moved that the PUC delay the hearings AGAIN.  

 NRCM, MREA, Renew Maine and other wind lobbyists this week are supporting NEER’s delay tactics. Those groups, along with Sierra, Conservation Law Foundation, and other intervenors have steadily opposed NECEC for two primary reasons: 

1. Big Hydro isn’t as “clean” as some people say it is, and 

2. They would rather see Maine host unfettered wind and solar generation instead.  

Depending on one’s perspective, the latter would be inconvenient at best and would be catastrophic at worst, and it only requires some simple math to see why. For example:

Look at two existing Maine power sources that have the same generating capacity: An Aroostook wind project, and every solar panel in Maine. It would take 102 wind projects the size of Mars Hill (that would be 2800 turbines plus multiple power lines) to theoretically equal the power delivered by NECEC. Or it would take ALL the present 4108 (both rooftop & grid scale) solar installations in Maine times 190. Even if Maine had enough real estate, of course, neither wind nor solar could fill the New England need for reliable generation.

42 MW total installed Maine solar, operating at 15% capacity factor = 6.3 MW

6.3 MW X 190 = 1200 MW 

Mars Hill is 28 wind turbines with 42 MW capacity, operating at 28% capacity factor = 11.76 MW

11.76 MW X 102 = 1200 MW

The PUC is scheduled to resume evidentiary hearings (with dozens of lawyers and very expensive expert witnesses traveling to Hallowell, Maine) on October 30. The PUC’s Hearing Examiners are expected any time now to rule whether to accept or deny NEER’s delay motion. 

 FMM is an intervenor also. FMM’s position is that Massachusetts isn’t doing enough to site its own reliable generation, but instead looks upon Maine as a power plantation. That said, FMM has always promoted a sober analysis of impact versus benefit when considering such projects, and CMP has indicated a willingness to compromise. FMM assumes that in the near future that no nuclear plants will be proposed anywhere between Provincetown and Stockbridge. FMM could support the NECEC if there are guarantees that the HVDC line would not allow adjacent wind projects to connect, and if the corridor will not be expanded to accommodate same, and if Massachusetts commits to shouldering more of the energy infrastructure burden. 

 Whether you are for or against the NECEC, you could submit public comment to the PUC saying the hearings should continue as scheduled (already very far behind) so Mainers can settle this divisive matter.  The longer NECEC’s decision is delayed, the longer hundreds and thousands of planned wind turbines remain in queue, viable on paper, lurking over Maine. 

 It would not hurt to mention that the PUC’s “necessity” decision should not be influenced by important albeit irrelevant issues like visual impact or the endless debate about whether big hydro is very clean or somewhat clean. And the decision certainly shouldn't be influenced by NEER’s dreams of building massive Maine wind projects. 

 For months, the above groups have been rallying the public against NECEC. They have issued multiple call to action notices, urging members to flood the PUC with opposition comments. FMM has not done that because while FMM is on record as against the NECEC, FMM also recognizes that the issue is more complicated than many have depicted it, and that if done properly, its benefits could exceed its impacts. 

 Today, FMM simply urges concerned Mainers to submit an online comment with the PUC urging them to deny NextEra’s delay motion.  

Just click this link, type case number 2017-00232 and submit your comment.