While Maine continues to debate the potential environmental impacts of Central Maine Power Co.’s proposed 145-mile transmission line, the Massachusetts attorney general and environmental groups have warned the contracts that would govern power sold over a completed line could undermine the state’s attempt to bring new amounts of clean, renewable power into New England.
The 20-year contracts, which are currently being evaluated by Massachusetts regulators, cover the sale of hydroelectricity over the proposed line from Hydro-Quebec, which is owned by the Quebec government, to Massachusetts electric utilities. Those utilities would then in turn sell that electricity to their residential and commercial customers, who are footing the $1 billion cost of the proposed line.
CMP and Hydro-Quebec proposed the line through Maine in response to a call by Massachusetts lawmakers for projects that would bring large amounts of new renewable energy into the state. But the contracts negotiated between Hydro-Quebec and the Massachusetts utilities omit a key provision, the absence of which could undermine Massachusetts’ effort to reduce its carbon emissions, according to Maura Healey, the state’s Democratic attorney general. (The Massachusetts attorney general serves as the state’s consumer advocate before utility regulators, the same role the public advocate serves in Maine.)
Hydro-Quebec already sells significant amounts of electricity into New England through other existing lines. The proposed contracts don’t require the energy that Hydro-Quebec sells over the proposed transmission line to be in additionto that total. Instead, the language in the contracts would allow Hydro-Quebec to take the energy it already sells into the shared New England electricity market and redirect it to the proposed line for higher prices, critics said.
If that happens, Massachusetts ratepayers could pay $1 billion for a line through western Maine that doesn’t actually bring them any new energy, the attorney general and environmental groups said in legal filings. In response, a Hydro-Quebec spokesperson called the scenario “illogical,” explaining the Canadian utility would want to maximize its exports as much as possible to increase revenue.
At the end of March, the Massachusetts attorney general filed a brief arguing the contracts, called power purchase agreements, “undermine the original intent and purpose” of the state’s legislative effort to procure new renewable energy and should be amended.
Hydro-Quebec already sells 14.8 terawatt hours of energy into New England a year, the attorney general’s office wrote. Massachusetts asked for projects that would deliver 9.5 terawatt hours of renewable energy to the state annually. That means that, with the line in place, Hydro-Quebec should be contractually required to deliver 24.3 terawatt hours per year — the amount it currently sells plus the amount it would sell over a completed line — the attorney general’s office argued.