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Buried line puts New England Clean Power Link plan on fast track

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 29. 2015 9:15PM
Above is the cover of the New England Clean Power Link environmental impact statement. 

The federal Department of Energy on Thursday recommended that a high-voltage power line to transmit electricity from Quebec be granted a presidential permit.

No, it’s not the Northern Pass.

The DOE issued its final environmental impact statement on the New England Clean Power Link, a 154-mile underwater and underground transmission line that will deliver 1,000 megawatts through Vermont and into the New England grid.

“The DOE’s proposed action is the issuance of a presidential permit that would authorize the construction, operation and maintenance of the project, which would cross the United States-Canada border,” according to the impact statement.

The secretary of state and the secretary of defense have previously reviewed the project and they have no objection.

The project sponsors, TDI New England, applied for the presidential permit in the spring of 2014.

Northern Pass, by comparison, has been in the works since 2010, underwent several route changes, and still does not have a final environmental impact statement from the DOE.

New York-based TDI, a subsidiary of the Blackstone investment group, first announced plans for the Clean Power Link in late 2013, applied to the Department of Energy in May of last year and in December applied for its state permits.

The state permitting process in Vermont is now the only major hurdle left for the project.

Significant differences

Like the Clean Power Link, the Northern Pass proposes to import a little more than 1,000 megawatts of hydro-electricity from Quebec.

There are two significant differences. The Clean Power Link is entirely underwater or underground, while the Northern Pass is mostly above ground.

And the Northern Pass has a deal with HydroQuebec to pump 1,000 megawatts into the transmission line if it gets built, while Clean Power Link has no such agreement, at least not yet.

TDI on Oct. 15 put out the word that it was looking for generators interested in buying capacity on the line, as the company launched the so-called “open solicitation process” for transmission customers.

View the final environmental impact statement of New England CleanPower Link below or click this link to view it in another window:

HydroQuebec may or may not decide to put in a bid, but TDI CEO Don Jesome says the project will proceed either way.

“We chose very carefully to connect into the Quebec system and the reason we did that is there are multiple suppliers who can use the Quebec system to access our transmission line,” he said. “There are suppliers in Atlantic Canada and facilities in Labrador that have access to the Quebec system, and there are suppliers in the Quebec system besides HydroQuebec.”

In addition, Jesome said, domestic energy suppliers can “wheel” into the Quebec system and access the new power line. “As we go through the open solicitation process, we’re looking forward to multiple suppliers coming forward,” he said.

Multiple solutions

The line will originate at the U.S.-Canadian border and travel approximately 97 miles underwater down Lake Champlain to Benson, Vt., and then be buried along town and state roads and railroad rights-of-way or on land owned by TDI New England for approximately 57 miles to a new converter station to be built in Ludlow, Vt.

The project is expected to be in service in 2019, at a cost of approximately $1.2 billion, compared to current estimates for Northern Pass at $1.6 billion.

Lauren Collins, a spokesperson for Northern Pass, said the region needs more than one new energy project.

“There is a clear preference in the region to seek cleaner energy alternatives and, particularly, hydropower from the vast reserves in Canada,” she said in a statement.

“Northern Pass remains the only large-scale transmission project in development in the region with a confirmed supplier of power and an interconnection approval. But the fact remains that our shared electric grid needs multiple solutions to address high energy costs and a rapidly dwindling supply due to power plant retirements.”

Minimal resistance

Northern Pass opponents seized the opportunity to once again point out that the Clean Power Link encountered minimal public resistance in Vermont because of the burial of the line.

“It is well recognized in the industry that siting is one of the most difficult facets of building new energy infrastructure,” said Susan Schibanoff with Responsible Energy Action. “NECPL dealt with that issue first by creating solid community and political support with a fully buried line. It has clearly paid off in terms of the record speed with which they have moved ahead.”

Jack Savage, with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said the speed at which NECPL is moving through the approval process could affect the prospects for Northern Pass.

“If there are customers in southern New England who would like to avail themselves of additional HQ-generated power, NECPL would seem to be the option more likely to be able to deliver,” he said. “It may well be that NECPL is simply a better idea than Northern Pass, and thus will end up the winner in the rush to market.”

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