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Maine Supreme Court Revives New England Transmission Project Deemed Vital to Energy Transition
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court delivered a victory on Tuesday for advocates of a transmission line that would connect renewable hydropower supply in Quebec with demand in New England.
Fifty-nine percent of Maine voters had effectively voted down the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project via a referendum dubbed Question 1 in November 2021. However, the state’s high court ruled parts of the referendum – which would have retroactively applied a ban on high-impact transmission lines in Maine’s Upper Kennebec Region, thereby killing the project – to be unconstitutional.
The unanimous court ruling “is a victory for clean energy expansion, transmission development, and decarbonization efforts in Maine, New England and across the country,” said Avangrid Inc., whose subsidiary Central Maine Power Co. is developing NECEC. “It is time to move away from the status quo fossil fuel companies who will undoubtedly continue their fight to maintain a stranglehold on the New England energy market.
“These companies have fought this clean energy project in every legal manner possible, filing challenge after challenge in a desperate effort to hold onto their share of the market.”
Analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC said Tuesday that, “We consider today’s opinion a significant ‘win’ for the project developer, as we have long regarded Question 1 as perhaps the most significant threat to the transmission line. That said, the narrower focus of the opinion sends the case back to the lower court and leaves other risks pending.”
These risks include a separate but related case pertaining to a lease granted to Avangrid allowing the project to traverse about a mile of public land, the ClearView team said.
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The NECEC project is anchored by 20-year, fixed-rate power purchase agreements between Montreal utility Hydro-Québec and distribution companies in Massachusetts. Under the arrangement, Hydro-Québec’s fleet of hydroelectric plants would supply about 9.45 Twh of electricity annually to New England consumers. This is equivalent to about 9.3% of total power generation on New England’s power grid in 2021.
Natural gas, by comparison, supplied 54.2 TWh or about 53% of last year’s total, according to ISO New England Inc., the regional transmission organization. In other words, NECEC could take a roughly 17% chunk out of New England’s annual gas-fired electricity production.
LNG ‘Critical’ to New England
Despite the region’s proximity to the prolific Appalachian Basin, pipeline constraints have forced New England to turn to LNG imports to cover its gas needs in recent years, particularly during the high-demand winter months, causing price volatility. The Everett facility in Massachusetts, for example, imported 21.4 Bcf of liquefied natural gas in 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration. The facility supplies two interstate pipeline systems, as well as a local gas utility and the Mystic Generating Station.
ISO New England CEO Gordon van Welie, along with the region’s gas and electric utilities, sent a letter this week to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm emphasizing “the critical importance of the Everett LNG facility to the entire New England region – an importance that will remain after the existing agreement to maintain operations at the Mystic Generating Station ends in June 2024. In short, the ISO believes that continued operations at the Everett LNG facility are vital as the region continues to evolve towards a cleaner, more renewable energy focused electric grid.”
The NECEC project, meanwhile, is considered vital to decarbonizing New England’s power generation mix. Construction is slated to finish in Spring 2023.
The roughly 145-mile, 1,200 MW conduit would deliver enough power to meet the demand of 1.2 million homes, and would be New Enlgand’s largest renewable energy source, according to Avangrid and its parent company, Iberdrola SA.
According to Avangrid, the project would reduce annual carbon emissions by 3.1 million metric tons, the equivalent of taking some 700,000 cars off the road, and would save consumers an estimated $3.9 billion on their power bills over the next 20 years.
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