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Senate approves bill that could revive purchase of Northern Pass power

  • National Grid wants to bring Canadian power south to Massachusetts, using lines it owns that run through the Concord area. The project would use the AC lines on the smaller towers in this photo, and would not require widening the right-of-way or replacing most towers. The larger, central tower, which carries high voltage DC power, would not be affected. This set of lines crosses Route 9/202 in Hopkinton near Whittier Pond. GEOFF FORESTER



Monitor staff
Thursday, March 30, 2017

The state Senate approved a measure Thursday that could give new life to Eversource Energy’s failed request to buy power off the Northern Pass line.

If signed into law, the change could give the proposal another shot before state energy regulators.

The Public Utilities Commission on Monday rejected the utility’s proposal to secure 10 percent of the 1,000-megawatt transmission line for customers, saying it was “inconsistent with New Hampshire law.”

The bill would let utilities pursue measures expected to lower electricity costs and reduce price volatility, such as power purchase agreements.

Senators fiercely debated the legislation, before approving a key amendment, 17–6, and passing the entire bill on a voice vote. Supporters said the change is needed to let energy regulators consider all proposals that could lower energy costs, while critics argued it could shift risk onto ratepayers.

Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley filed the bill after the PUC denied a separate Eversource request to help pay for a natural gas pipeline expansion with money from electricity rates. The revised language, however, would explicitly prohibit any proposals that involve purchasing natural gas.

The bill will next head to the Republican-led House.

Energy policy has been a hot topic at the State House, especially as Northern Pass goes through the state permitting process and natural gas pipeline projects are under review.

Eversource had sought a 20-year power purchase agreement to buy hydropower off Northern Pass and then resell it on the competitive market. Any net losses or gains from the sale would be passed on to customers. The PUC said the setup would violate state laws deregulating the energy industry, because the utility’s sale of hydropower is essentially the same as owning a power plant.

Bradley said the bill would let regulators consider such deals and decide whether they are in the public interest.

“At a time we have among the highest electric rates in the nation, we are giving more authority to the Public Utilities Commission to consider measures they have said they don’t have the legal authority to even consider, even if they might make sense,” he said.

Opponents argued power purchase agreements can lock ratepayers in to deals for years at a time when the energy market is rapidly changing and prices are volatile. Eversource customers are paying the stranded costs of a $422 million mercury scrubber that was installed at Merrimack Station at lawmakers’ request.

“Every single time the Legislature has gotten involved, without fail, it has cost the people of New Hampshire more money,” said Bedford Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Republican who opposed the bill.

The vote did not split along party lines. Four Republicans and two Democrats opposed it, including Deerfield Sen. John Reagan, Stoddard Sen. Ruth Ward and Portsmouth Sen. Martha Fuller Clark.

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