Letter to the Editor: CMP project to benefit Lewiston

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The Sun Journal article on the forum held to discuss Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect Project (Aug. 23) did a decent job of presenting information both favoring and opposing this project. Unfortunately, the headline presented a biased picture and may well mislead those who did not read the entire article.

Other potential headlines could have been: CMP power line project to benefit Lewiston; Lewiston to receive $5 million in annual tax revenue from CMP project; CMP project to create jobs during construction; CMP project to lower cost of electricity; CMP project to be fully paid for by Massachusetts residents; or CMP clean energy project to reduce greenhouse emissions. Or, perhaps, an even-handed, “Proponents and opponents discuss CMP power line project.”

The Lewiston City Council has voted unanimously to support the project and I urge all Lewiston residents to look beyond the headlines and seek out complete information about a project that will provide significant benefits to Lewiston taxpayers and ratepayers. Residents’ future property tax and utility bills will be impacted positively by this project.

Shane Bouchard, mayor of Lewiston

Letter to the Editor: A good thing, overall

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The proposed Central Maine Power New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line through west central Maine is under review. It will transport renewable hydropower from Quebec to the large Massachusetts market. Towns that the line passes through will acquire new tax income and many jobs will be created during construction. Many host municipalities have modest tax bases and weak economic profiles.

NECEC will have a negative impact on some locations. CMP has worked to limit such problems. For example, the Kennebec Gorge crossing has been carefully sited and there is still an issue. The Western Mountains and Rivers Corp. (a non-profit) has negotiated a $22 million package with CMP to aid in conservation projects to offset negative elements related to the crossing.

Opposition comes from several sources. Whitewater rafters object to seeing the lines. But without CMP releasing water from its dam system, there would little rafting. Wilderness users also protest visual intrusions. Many of those same people are from the Bay State and want their lights on back home.

As a former director of the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, I believe the overall impact of this project will be good for the area, Maine and New England.

Paul Frederic, Starks

Power line project offers prospect of better internet in rural Maine

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FARMINGTON — A possible benefit of the proposed $950 million hydropower transmission line between the Canadian border and Lewiston is the opportunity it offers to extend high-speed internet into more of rural Maine.

Central Maine Power plans to include fiber-optic strands atop its transmission towers, with on-and-off ramps every 3 to 5 miles that would allow others to access it, according to Doug Herling, the company’s president.

He said the details have not been worked out, but the company is open to talks with communities and others interested in accessing the wire for high-speed internet access.

“It could be a really big deal,” Heather Johnson, director of the ConnectME Authority, said Wednesday. But, she added, “the devil is in the details.”

Johnson said the route would cut through a swath of Maine that does not have much for fiber-optic access, so there is a chance the project could lower costs and improve access for many communities along the 145-mile route.

If it comes to pass, she said, it should prove especially beneficial to Androscoggin and Somerset counties, which do not have cheap, all-access fiber lines.

“We don’t have it all worked out yet,” Johnson said, but the company is talking seriously about how to mesh its needs with state efforts to improve broadband for residents and businesses.

She said a company would likely oversee use of the new line, if constructed, and any profits might be poured back in to assist with the difficult task of installing wires for what is commonly called “the last mile” to reach consumers.

It appears the power company is generally willing to lend a hand.

“We’re not interested in this as a profit center,” said Thorn Dickinson, vice president for business development at Avangrid, the Spanish company that owns CMP.

Broadband access along the route from Lewiston to the border would complement the Three Ring Binder project completed in 2012 that installed a fiber-optic line through many underserved areas of Maine.

The Three Ring Binder lines would intersect with the new transmission corridor in only one place: Farmington. The rest of the proposed addition would venture into new territory for open-access fiber.

Dickinson said the electricity company has to use only a small portion of the available bandwidth in the fiber-optic line, leaving plenty of space for others to tap into it.

Johnson said the utility would likely have a couple of strands dedicated for its own use — ensuring security for its data — but plans to have many more strands included for public needs.

Herling said the company opted to pay for a slightly more costly fiber-optic line to ensure plenty of excess capacity.

Dickson said CMP is excited about the opportunities the new. high-speed access could bring to communities along the route of the new transmission line.

“We are really open for ideas,” he said.

Johnson said Maine pays more to move data online than other states, such as Massachusetts, that have more “pipelines” and access. Generally speaking, she said, the more access is available, the cheaper it gets.

So adding another way for data to move through Maine would ultimately bring lower costs, a serious consideration for companies that rely on large-scale transfers of data.

She said that installing fiber-optic lines costs about $30,000 per mile, so to have CMP add a line to its entire transmission corridor is no small thing. At that rate, it will likely cost the company more than $4 million to have the line, which requires repeaters at regular intervals to speed along the data.

Johnson said the ability to hook the proposed new line into the existing one in Farmington is also a benefit because it would provide alternative routes for data. She said a lot of data flows through Maine as it goes between Europe and Boston, so securing a different pathway would improve the whole system’s reliability.

Because CMP is eyeing an open-access line, Johnson said, it “can create new competition” along the route, even in places — such as Lewiston — that have private fiber-optic lines.

More access could also help spur growth in struggling areas of the state.

The state’s broadband action plan, released in May, says high-speed internet “is now a necessary asset to attract and retain businesses and residents in Maine,” but most of the state’s rural communities lack access.

“This limits their ability to grow, innovate, support seniors staying in their homes, develop a strong workforce and create an environment to attract business growth,” the report said.

The power company’s proposal to create the new line, which is meant to bring electric power from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts, is under consideration by state agencies. They are likely to decide by early 2019 whether to give the project a green light.

There is substantial opposition from other power producers, environmental groups and residents worried about potentially negative impacts of the almost-$1 billion hydropower transmission line

If it works out, CMP plans to start construction in 2019 and finish within a few years.

Milestone reached for New England Clean Energy Connect

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Hydro-Québec and Central Maine Power Company (CMP), a subsidiary of AVANGRID, Inc., jointly announced the successful conclusion of contract negotiations with the Massachusetts electric distribution companies (EDCs) for the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) 100 per cent hydropower project. The Massachusetts EDCs will next file the agreements with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, pursuant to the Massachusetts 83D Clean Energy Request for Proposals.

“We have made important progress with regard to this groundbreaking 20-year agreement, moving us closer towards decarbonization in the Northeast,” said Éric Martel, president and chief executive officer of Hydro-Québec. “In the coming months we’ll be working closely with Central Maine Power to complete this important new interconnection project which will not only reduce carbon emissions, but will also bring price stability and supply reliability to the region.”

“The conclusion of these negotiations marks a significant step forward for the NECEC and the people of Maine, who will realize lasting economic benefits from this initiative, including new job creation and targeted investments such as expanded broadband access in Western Maine,” said Douglas Herling, president and chief executive officer of Central Maine Power. “We appreciate the Commonwealth’s bold commitment to bringing additional, clean energy resources into our region, which further enhances the decades-long collaboration among our states and the Province of Québec. We will continue to advance the project in Maine, where it has received strong support from host communities, the Governor, the leadership of the State Senate and House of Representatives as well as the business community.”

The contracts with the Massachusetts EDCs provide for the delivery of approximately 9.45 terawatt hours annually of clean and reliable baseload power, for twenty years. The energy will be supplied by Hydro-Québec’s vast hydropower generating fleet, which means greater reliability and less reliance on fossil fuels during extreme winter weather conditions.

CMP to spend $250M, hire hundreds to build Lewiston conversion station

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The Lewiston City Council unanimously approved the Central Maine Power company’s plan for a clean energy DC to AC conversion station.

It will be located near the power substation in north Lewiston.

“Lewiston itself will see a $250 million investment,” Lincoln Jeffers, the city’s economic development director told CBS 13. “That translates into $5 million annually in taxes. There will be about 1,700 jobs during construction of this project.”

The project is expected to be completed in 2022.

The Lewiston conversion station is a central part of the power company’s larger — and in some places, controversial — plan to route hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts through Maine.

Lewiston council supports CMP hydroelectric project, new converter station

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LEWISTON — A multimillion-dollar project that would bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts through Maine received an official nod of support from the City Council last week, as Lewiston is set to become a centerpiece of the proposal.

The Central Maine Power Co. project, known as New England Clean Energy Connect, or NECEC, received unanimous support from the council because of its potential tax impact for Lewiston.

The project would channel 1,200 megawatts of energy from Hydro-Quebec along a new 145-mile transmission line from the Canadian border to a new AC/DC converter station in Lewiston.

Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett estimates that the $250 million investment in Lewiston will result in between $5 million and $7 million annually in property taxes.

If approved, the converter station would be located in the Merrill Road area, and construction would take place between mid-2019 and mid-2022.

However, the project is still awaiting permits and approvals from a number of federal agencies, and has seen pushback from some Maine communities with environmental concerns.

Those include towns surrounding the Kennebec Gorge, where CMP would build power lines over the Kennebec River, and a proposed Appalachian Trail crossing.

The CMP project has had a complicated path, but has been ushered in by a 2016 law in Massachusetts that seeks long-term contracts for renewable energy sources, including hydroelectricity from Canada. CMP was awarded the bid on the project from Massachusetts earlier this year.

The new transmission line in Maine would be built on land already owned by CMP. In June, in response to some of the environmental concerns, CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, said it would invest $22 million to support conservation and new trails in the area.

Following the council’s vote to support the project last week, a statement from the city of Lewiston said the project “will substantially expand the city’s tax base and assist in mitigating the city’s property tax rate.”

Mayor Shane Bouchard said Lewiston is “pleased to unanimously reaffirm our support for this clean renewable power project. While all utility projects have impacts, this one has major positives for Lewiston, Maine, and the region, with few negatives. It will generate jobs, lower energy costs, and expand the tax base. The city has a long and positive working relationship with CMP, and we know they deliver on their promises.”

Avangrid-CMP has said the project construction will support an average of 1,700 jobs annually in Lewiston and Maine.

Andrew Rice can be contacted at:
arice@sunjournal.com

An energy transition

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When one looks at a map of Maine, it is easy to see that we share most of our border with Canada. In practical terms, we are at the end of the American pipeline for energy sources shared with our neighboring states, for Maine is the most easterly state in the union. This fact creates significant energy cost issues for Maine.

Given the push to embrace cleaner energy sources, does it not make sense to explore alternative energy options with our northerly neighbor?

Currently, there is a proposal by the New England Clean Energy Connect project to access Hydro-Quebec’s massive power resources with our electric grid through western Maine. The grand plan is to meet the mandated alternative energy demands of Massachusetts. But Maine stands to gain.

This $950 million project would expand an existing power line right-of-way in western Maine from Wyman Dam in Bingham to a new converter station-transmission hub outside Lewiston. Central Maine Power would secure additional land access in far northwest Maine — already in place — as well as permits from towns along the existing route, mostly completed, to build the connection to Hydro-Quebec’s transmission lines across the border in Quebec. Potentially, 1,700 jobs would be created over the three-year construction period, while power line-sited towns would receive new property tax payments for decades. None of the cost for the new DC power line would be borne by Maine rate payers.

Mainers could see more secure and stable energy pricing, as the New England ISO energy market would be stabilized. Projections estimate that Maine’s combined energy bills could drop up to $40 million a year. Apart from the cost savings, the New England Clean Energy Connect project is necessary. Retiring coal and nuclear energy capacity must be replaced in the next few years, while regulators have stymied natural gas line expansion in New England even as demand soars. The contract with Hydro-Quebec also would block nondispatchable energy supply from the grid. Translation: Wind and solar, both non-instantaneous energy providers, could not connect, eliminating one source of contention for western Maine residents concerned about wind power proliferation beyond the existing Mayfield-Bingham wind farm.

Many affected western Maine towns are overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed CMP project. And why not? They have a history of embracing and understanding the impact of hydropower. In 1929, Walter Wyman pushed to build Wyman dam in Bingham, at the time one of the largest dams in the east. There was opposition; the state even prevented Wyman and CMP from selling his electric power out of state. That law was repealed in the 1950s. Supplying inexpensive electric power up and down the Kennebec River valley, Wyman Dam helped a diverse cross-section of businesses to grow and prosper.

In a perspective on Wyman’s forward-thinking vision moving toward hydropower, the Maine Historical Society’s review of his accomplishments includes the following. “Even in the 21st century, the shadow of this older way of life falls across the state, in towns of fierce attachment to locality, an ambivalence about modernity, and an acute sense of loss, as well as gain, that comes with progress.”

Our energy supplies need to be affordable and continuously scalable. Energy infrastructure tends to be very capital-intensive. Investors, regulators and users need to know it will work for decades so that our energy supply is reliable and sustainable. Before the New England Clean Energy Connect project is realized, opponents to hydropower projects must offer realistic alternatives on the scale necessary to supplement the 85 percent of America’s energy currently based on coal, oil, nuclear and natural gas. Existing wind and solar infrastructure alternatives help our electric energy supply, yet they remain fractional contributors on the scale necessary for everyday life. Dispatchable, on-demand power such as Hydro-Quebec is offering to New England and Maine appears to be the best big solution to Maine’s perennial search for an affordable energy supply.

Power Options - Greenhouse Reduction Goal Shouldn’t Drive Wrong Decision on Clean Energy Deal

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The cold weather over the last few weeks has resulted in a significant amount of electricity being generated by coal and oil in New England. But, on an annual basis, the amount of oil- and coal-generated electricity will still be about 1% or less of all of the generation in the region. It’s important to keep that fact in perspective, especially as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ clean energy solicitation is awarded.

The Boston Globe editorial last week implied that it would be worth the expense to select the winner of the solicitation based on its ability to deliver large-scale hydro sooner than a less expensive project—which would deliver the same energy significantly cheaper but, perhaps, a little later—simply to avoid the small amount of coal and oil we burn when it is exceptionally cold. This makes no sense.

This decision is bigger than the near-term environmental impacts and goals. This is a decision that we, as consumers and environmentalists, will have to live with for 20 years.

History has shown that, no matter how good an energy deal looks when it is signed, circumstances change over 20 years and, in New England, the economics have usually ended up not as good as predicted.

We should at least start with the best deal we can and take the long view on the environmental benefits. Opponents of new gas pipelines point to this longer view in accepting the short-term impacts of constrained gas capacity in the region (which is why we’re burning coal and oil). We need to take that same long-term view in the selection of the deal for clean energy.

Projects of this size require extensive permitting and construction time. No one can be certain of timing. Pick the one that’s lowest cost and capable of being built in a reasonable time horizon. Doing it right is more important than doing it quick.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts - Competition Moderates Clean-Energy Costs for Ratepayers

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Clean energy in Massachusetts is finally subject to the laws of economics. That’s good news for both businesses and residents throughout the commonwealth who pay some of the highest electric rates in nation.

The current competitive bidding process being conducted by Massachusetts utilities for large scale hydropower, onshore and offshore wind, and solar will not lower the price of electricity – at least not in the next few years. But ratepayers will at least be assured their money is being spent wisely.

Governor Charlie Baker signed two energy bills in 2016 that swept away the sweetheart deals and overly generous subsidies that characterized the clean-energy business prior to that time. The bills required purchases of clean energy to be competitive and transparent. The results are already evident, even before the contracts are signed.

In April 2017, as part of the first requirement for the utilities to purchase clean energy (primarily large hydropower from Canada and onshore wind) a request for proposals was sent to developers.

Suppliers responded with nearly 50 proposals, far more that the total cumulative amount allowed in the legislation. Some names you might recognize – Hydroquebec, for instance, has been sending power to Massachusetts for decades. But others may not be as familiar – Emera, Nalcor, TDI, Nextera, and Avangrid – some partnering with utilities National Grid and Eversource - all vying to serve Massachusetts consumers.

The clean energy process even attracted a bid from New England-based Deepwater Wind, which submitted a small offshore wind proposal, even though the larger competitive solicitation for offshore wind was not due until this month, separate from the initial clean energy bidding process.

While prices haven’t been disclosed yet (the analysis is based on a complex evaluation of bids and is confidential until a winning bidder is selected following by a public process at the Department of Public Utilities process), the fact that so many developers “sharpened their pencil” is a good start.

Bids under the clean-energy program are scheduled to be awarded around January 25. Bids for the separate offshore wind program will be selected on April 23..

Competition will have a particularly dramatic effect on solar energy.

Although some small solar projects were bid as part of the clean energy proposals, the vast amount of solar installations are currently subsidized through a different program that has been around for several years. It has become not only expensive – $500 million dollars per year, but also overly generous as the cost of solar installations has dropped more than 50 percent due to lower market prices.

Most states went to a competitive framework years ago – and saw significantly lower prices, but Massachusetts program is just starting. Bids for new solar projects were due in December. Those bids will establish a baseline process for solar power for the next several years. Based on the experience of other states, the prices should drop by more than half.

And that’s not all. In both the offshore wind and solar programs, future projects must be lower than the current prices, all but guaranteeing that the state has bent the price curve for these installations.

It’s an ambitious move. And in the aftermath of the Cape Wind debacle, some Massachusetts ratepayers may find it hard to believe that clean energy and offshore wind farms could be competitively priced and developed cost-effectively.

But that is what is happening. And the diversity of projects was no surprise to AIM – early supporters of bringing competition to clean energy.

The debate about whether the commonwealth will pursue clean energy is over. So is the debate about the value of competition to Massachusetts electric customers.

Mass. High Technology Council Urges Massachusetts to Prioritize Cost in Clean Energy Solicitation Process

Business group calls on state regulators to focus on ratepayer interests as well as reliability and sustainability

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In a letter today the Massachusetts High Technology Council (the “Council”) urged the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (the “Department”) to give the highest priority to considerations of cost and economic impacts on electricity ratepayers as the Department considers transmission projects that will deliver renewable energy in support of the Commonwealth’s ambitious carbon reduction goals.

The Council recently joined with Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable to host a public discussion featuring several suppliers bidding for the Massachusetts “83D” clean energy procurement.

“As regulators deliberate on the best project for Massachusetts’ clean energy future, strong consideration must be given to impacts on our ability to meet the needs of our growing economy,” said Christopher R. Anderson, the Council’s President. “Make no mistake, cost matters. We support the Commonwealth’s efforts to be a national leader in renewable energy, but we must all be mindful of the impact energy costs have on job creation and our reputation as a leader in the innovation economy.”

Regulators should be mindful of the evolution of energy technologies and the growing impacts of energy efficiency, smart grids, smart buildings, demand response, microgrids, batteries, and solar technologies are having on overall energy production and distribution.

Current and historic data, including key metrics tracked in the Massachusetts Technology, Talent and Economic Reporting System (MATTERS), the Council’s 50-state competiveness dashboard, show that energy costs in Massachusetts are consistently among the highest in the nation. For example, the average retail price of electricity Massachusetts is currently the 5th highest in the nation and ratepayers continue to see regular increases in base rates.

 

Overall, the high cost of doing business in Massachusetts is a competitive disadvantage for the state. In the just-concluded Fall 2017 MATTERS Executive Competitiveness Insight Survey, 77% of respondents cited the high cost of doing business as a top risk facing their business.

Following the 2016 enactment of an expansive clean energy law, Governor Baker and legislators repeatedly and wisely urged that only the most cost-effective projects should be considered in the clean energy RFP process and the affordability of each proposal must be given the highest priority. We call on DOER and all involved in the procurement process to heed that call.

Background:

In January 2018, Massachusetts’ first large-scale clean electricity solicitation process will conclude. The Commonwealth’s Department of Energy Resources, in partnership with electric distribution companies, are responsible for awarding long-term power contracts for delivery of up to 1,200 megawatts of clean energy into the state’s electrical grid.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy “83D” solicitation for imported hydropower, onshore wind power, energy storage, solar power and other resources is the result of the landmark An Act Relative to Energy Diversity, which was enacted in 2016.

About the Massachusetts High Technology Council – www.mhtc.org

The Massachusetts High Technology Council is the oldest and only cross-sector association of technology, professional services, and higher education CEOs and senior executives in Massachusetts. As advocates for public policies and programs that create and maintain a healthy and competitive business climate, the Council has lead winning strategies for 40 years.