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State rejects key piece of Northern Pass proposal

  • Northern Pass route map. Courtesy



Monitor staff
Wednesday, March 29, 2017

State regulators rejected Eversource Energy’s request to buy power off the planned Northern Pass transmission line, dealing a blow to the utility’s position that its New Hampshire electric customers will get direct benefits from the controversial project.

The Public Utilities Commission wrote in an order released Monday that Eversource’s proposal to secure 10 percent of the 1,000-megawatt line for customers is “inconsistent with New Hampshire law.”

Eversource had sought a 20-year power purchase agreement to buy the line’s hydropower and then resell it on the competitive market. Any net losses or gains from the sale would be passed on to customers.

The commission said in an eight-page order that the setup would violate state laws deregulating the power industry, because the utility’s sale of power is essentially the same as owning a power plant.

The decision mirrors the PUC’s earlier rejection of Eversource’s request to buy capacity on a natural gas pipeline with money paid by electricity customers.

A spokesman for Northern Pass said the power purchase agreement isn’t a requirement of the permits needed to build the line.

It “was proposed as a response to many, including business leaders and policy makers, who asked for a guarantee that New Hampshire, as host state of the Northern Pass project, will receive its fair share of energy from the project and economic benefits above and beyond those received by other New England states,” said Martin Murray in a written statement.

Opponents of the Northern Pass power purchase agreement included NextEra, the New England Power Generators Association and the Conservation Law foundation, which argued the setup would shift financial risks to Eversource customers.

It’s not clear what price Eversource agreed to pay for the hydropower because those costs are currently redacted from its filings, though the state’s consumer advocate is pushing to have the figures unsealed.

Though the Monday PUC order has shut down the PPA for now, the agreement could get another shot before regulators if a bill under consideration in the state Senate becomes law.

The legislation, proposed by Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley, would let utilities pursue measures aimed at reducing electricity costs or price volatility and could open the door to ratepayer-funded projects. It comes up for a vote in the Senate on Thursday.

Bradley said he filed Senate Bill 128 in response to the PUC’s rejection of Eversource’s request to buy natural gas on the proposed Access Northeast pipeline expansion with ratepayer money.

“We know there is broad support in the Legislature to provide regulators with assurance that they have the authority to consider whether proposals like the PPA would be in the best interest of customers. SB128, if passed into law, would provide that assurance,” Murray wrote.

Northern Pass would funnel Canadian hydropower into the region through a 192-mile transmission line proposed to run through New Hampshire. It needs state and federal permits before it can be constructed. Under current plans, roughly 60 miles of the line would be buried beneath the White Mountain National Forest and through a northern section of the state.

Critics say the project will mar the natural landscape and lower property values along the route, while supporters say the energy is needed to diversify the region’s fuel mix.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is a vocal supporter of the project, calling for the project’s construction last week during a trip to Canada.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)