Maine regulatory staff recommend approval of NECEC project

Maine Public Utilities Commission staff has recommended that the commission issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) to Central Maine Power (CMP) for the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project, as noted in a March 29 examiner’s report.

The report contains staff’s recommendation and while it is in the form of a draft commission order, it does not constitute commission action. The report added that parties may file responses or exceptions to the report by 4 p.m., on April 8.

As noted in the report, the commission finds that the construction and operation of the NECEC is in the public interest and, therefore, there is a public need for the project. The commission also approves a stipulation filed in the proceeding on Feb. 21, according to the report.

The NECEC would allow for up to 1,200 MW of hydropower to be delivered to New England from Québec, Canada for a period of at least 20 years; the expected commercial operations date of the NECEC is in December 2022. The report added that the core elements of the project are:

  • Transmission line equipment – a new 145.3-mile, +/-320-kV, HVDC transmission line from the Canadian border to a new converter station located on Merrill Road in Lewiston (Section 3006); a new 1.6-mile, 345-kV AC transmission line from the new Merrill Road converter station to the existing Larrabee Road substation (Section 3007)
  • Substation equipment – new 345-kV AC to +/-320-kV, HVDC, 1,200-MW Merrill Road converter station; additional 345-kV AC transmission line terminal at the existing Larrabee Road substation
  • Transmission line equipment network upgrades – new 26.5-mile, 345-kV, AC transmission line from the existing Coopers Mills Road substation in Windsor to the existing Maine Yankee substation in Wiscasset (Section 3027); new 0.3-mile, 345-kV, AC transmission line from the existing Surowiec substation in Pownal to a new substation on Fickett Road in Pownal (Section 3005); rebuild of a 9.3-mile, 115-kV, Section 62 AC transmission line from the existing Crowley’s substation in Lewiston to the existing Surowiec substation; rebuild of a 16.1-mile, 115-kV, Section 64 AC transmission line from the existing Larrabee Road substation to the existing Surowiec substation; partial rebuild of 0.8 miles each of 115-kV Sections 60 and 88 AC transmission lines outside of the Coopers Mills Road substation; partial rebuild of 0.3 miles of 345-kV, Section 392 AC transmission line between the Coopers Mills Road substation and the Maine Yankee substation and about 3.5 miles of reconductor work on existing double-circuit lattice steel towers outside of the Maine Yankee substation; partial rebuild of 0.3 miles of 345-kV, Section 3025 AC transmission line between the Coopers Mills Road substation and the Larrabee Road substation; partial rebuild of 0.8 miles of 34.5-kV, Section 72 AC transmission line outside of the Larrabee Road substation
  • Substation equipment network upgrades – replace existing Larrabee Road 345/115-kV 448MVA autotransformer with a 600MVA autotransformer; additional 345-kV AC transmission line terminal at the existing Maine Yankee substation; additional 345-kV AC transmission line terminal and 115-kV switch replacements at the existing Surowiec substation; 115-kV switch and bus wire replacements at Crowley’s substation; new 345-kV Fickett Road substation with 345-kV +/-200MVAR static compensator (STATCOM); additional 345-kV AC transmission line terminal and additional 345-kV +/- 200MVAR STATCOM (+/-400MVAR total with the +/-200MVAR existing) at the existing Coopers Mills Road substation; additional 345/115-kV, 448MVA autotransformer, associated 115-kV buswork and terminate existing 115-kV Sections 164, 164A, and 165 into three new breaker-and-a-half bays at the existing Raven Farm substation

The NECEC’s proposed route is on private land that CMP owns or controls, including existing corridors for more than half its length, the report added. The northern portion of the HVDC line is proposed to be built in currently undeveloped corridor primarily traversing commercial forest land, and the remainder of the corridor would be built within the undeveloped width of existing transmission corridors.

The corridor begins in western Maine in Beattie Township, touches the southwest corner of Lowelltown Township and then extends easterly about 27 miles across Skinner Township, then across Appleton Township, Raytown Township, Hobbstown Township, Bradstreet Township, and across the southwest corner of Parlin Pond Township, the report added. From that point, the corridor crosses onto Johnson Mountain Township extending southerly about 6.5 miles over the approach to Coburn Mountain and into the valley between Coburn Mountain and Johnson Mountain, and then turning east for about 2.5 miles to U.S. Route 201. Between the border and U.S. Route 201, the corridor is a 300-foot-wide parcel, the report added.

The 300-foot-wide corridor continues south across West Forks Plantation about 4¾ miles to the Kennebec River and the West Forks Plantation/Moxie Gore line. From the Kennebec River, the 300-foot-wide corridor extends about 49 miles southeast across Moxie Gore and the Forks Plantation to the intersection with an existing transmission corridor near the Lake Moxie Road. The report added that the remaining section of the NECEC would be built on the existing corridor.

The estimated cost of the NECEC is about $1bn. The report also noted that the cost of building and operating the NECEC would be borne by customers of electric distribution companies (EDCs) in Massachusetts and Hydro Québec. Since the NECEC-enabled power would be delivered into Maine, however, benefits would accrue for a period of at least 20 years to Maine electricity consumers through operation of the regional wholesale market, the report noted.

In addition to the wholesale electricity price reductions that would result from the NECEC, the project would enhance system reliability and fuel security within Maine and the ISO New England (ISO-NE) region, the report said. Furthermore, the project would provide environmental benefits by displacing fossil fuel generation in the region, the report said.

With respect to the effects of the project on scenic and recreational values, as well as the associated impacts on tourism and the economies of communities in proximity to the project, the commission finds that those effects are adverse and significant. The report added that when those are balanced against the ratepayer, economic, and environmental benefits of the NECEC, however, the commission finds that those adverse effects are outweighed by the benefits.

In addition, the commission expects that the scenic and recreational impacts of the NECEC would be reviewed and, to the extent appropriate and feasible, mitigated through the processes at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC).

The record reflects benefits for Maine that range from $19m to $27m per year. Given the fluctuating nature of the ISO-NE capacity market and related rules, any such benefits, even if certain in the near term, cannot be certain over the longer term, the report added. Thus, the commission concludes that the lower end of the range of benefits, $19m per year, for the first 10 years of NECEC operation, is a reasonable and conservative estimate of the capacity market benefits to Maine from the project, the report said.

Discussing reliability, the report noted that the commission concludes that the addition of the interconnection to Québec and the substantial amounts of baseload hydroelectric energy it would enable would enhance supply reliability and supply diversity in Maine, as well as in the region. The commission notes that there are significant challenges to siting new energy infrastructure in the region and, at the same time, natural gas supplies from gas fields offshore Nova Scotia have diminished, with most of the supply from that region expected to be gone by 2020, the report said.

Among other things, the report noted that the stipulation includes a condition that CMP would convey the project to NECEC Transmission LLC (NECEC LLC), a newly organized subsidiary with the Avangrid Networks that is not a subsidiary of CMP. Upon the transfer, CMP and NECEC LLC would enter into a service agreement that contains the provisions under which CMP would provide various services to NECEC LLC, including supply chain and engineering services.

The report added that beginning with the NECEC commercial operations date, NECEC LLC would fund a $40m low-income customer benefits fund by making 40 annual payments of $1.25m. That fund would be available to fund programs that benefit low-income energy customers in Maine and may be used to reduce the amounts paid by low-income customers for electricity or other energy sources, for weatherization and household efficiency programs, the report said.

As noted in the stipulation, the stipulating parties are CMP, the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, the Governor’s Energy Office, the Industrial Energy Consumer Group, Conservation Law Foundation, Acadia Center, Western Mountains & Rivers Corporation, City of Lewiston, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and Industrial Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2807 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 13 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at corinar@pennwell.com.