February 26, 2020
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CMP project could cost New England energy companies $1.8 billion, study says

Jacques Boissinot | AP
Jacques Boissinot | AP
In this June 22, 2010 ,file photo, the Jean-Lesage hydroelectric dam generates power along the Manicouagan River north of Baie-Comeau, Quebec. Central Maine Power's proposed transmission line across western Maine would serve as a conduit for the Canadian hydropower.

Fossil fuel and nuclear generation companies could lose millions of dollars in revenue annually — or $1.8 billion over 15 years — if Central Maine Power Co.’s hydropower corridor is approved, according to a new study released Monday.

The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project, known as the NECEC, could lower wholesale energy prices paid to companies that generate electricity in New England and in turn lower prices for consumers, according to the report by Stepwise Data Research, an economic analysis firm in Yarmouth.

While some consumers might welcome that news, lower wholesale prices would pressure struggling energy producers in Maine and across New England, making it more difficult for them to stay in business, experts say.

The report for the first time estimates the dollar value of the project’s effect on existing energy-generation companies. The study was commissioned by Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs, a group of individuals, businesses and associations that support the CMP project.

“This study quantifies the economic impact on existing fossil fuel and nuclear generators,” said Benjamin Dudley, director of the group. He’s also a former legislator from Portland and a former chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.

He said the analysis answers a fundamental question about why Calpine Corp., a natural gas-fired generator in Westbrook, opposes the project.

“The answer: they and other fossil fuel generators across New England will lose a billion dollars in revenue once this clean hydroelectricity starts flowing into Maine,” he said.

The stakes are high for energy generation companies, which potentially could go out of business if a flood of low-cost energy hits the market.

The CMP project could cause between $61 million and $75 million in revenue losses annually for companies that generate electricity using fossil fuels, according to the study. It based the numbers on historical and projected power generation data.

For nuclear energy generators, revenue losses could total between $37 million and $45 million annually, if the remaining two nuclear generators in New England remain in operation.

The study said the wholesale cost of energy largely determines the rates for residential consumers.

Stepwise Data said the average yearly price savings in New England from 2023, a year after the corridor is projected to be operational, to 2037 would be $134 million, or about $1.29 per megawatt hour each year. In Maine alone, the price benefit is $14 million.

Current electricity generators would feel a revenue hit from the CMP project in two ways. They would get a lower dollar-per-megawatt hour payment for their electricity because of the large amount of new energy the project would bring into the grid. They also would be selling less electricity because low-cost energy from the CMP project would displace their energy, which costs more to produce, the report said.

“Mainers for Local Power opposes NECEC because we are concerned that it would negatively impact the region’s competitive wholesale power market and our Maine-based business operations, without providing real environmental benefits,” said Vivian Mikhail, treasurer for the group, which is a political action committee formed in December by Calpine and Vistra Energy Corp., both based in Texas.

Calpine and Vistra, which oppose the CMP project, generate electricity using natural gas-fired generators at plants in Westbrook and Veazie, respectively.

Neither company responded to requests by the Bangor Daily News to comment on the Stepwise Data estimates nor to provide their own data on their projected revenue losses.

Mainers for Local Power backed a potential ballot question aimed at killing the CMP project. Maine’s ethics regulator on Thursday threatened the PAC with up to $25,000 in fines for its activities.

On Feb. 3, a grassroots group called Say No to NECEC delivered 75,000 signatures to the Maine secretary of state’s office, setting up a likely ballot question for voters this November.

The CMP project would pipe hydroelectricity 145 miles from the Canadian border through western Maine. It would be a conduit for Hydro-Quebec, CMP’s partner on the project, to sell 9.45 terawatt hours of power annually to Massachusetts. That is about 9 percent of New England’s current electricity generation.

The influx of that much electricity into the grid will suppress electricity prices in New England and Maine, the report said.

“If NECEC becomes operational, many Maine generating plants would become less competitive, reducing their output, revenues, profitability and therefore their ability to continue operations,” Tanya Bodell, executive director of Boston-based energy consulting firm Energyzt, testified in April 2017 before the Maine Public Utilities Commission on behalf of Calpine.

She said in a report to the utilities commission that fossil-fuel generators in Maine would be particularly hard hit by the CMP project because they generally have the highest cost of production.

The CMP project has been controversial for a number of reasons, including potential environmental harm, questionable benefit to Mainers and its effect on existing energy suppliers.

Stepwise Data drew its estimates of effects on New England’s wholesale energy market from several studies, public documents submitted to the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the most recent electricity generation data from ISO New England, which oversees the region’s electricity market.

It relied primarily on data from a study by London Economics International prepared for the utilities commission, saying it found those numbers the most conservative and objective among three main studies. The other two studies were prepared for proponents and opponents of the CMP project.

CMP commissioned Daymark Inc. for its study. The generator companies also had a study prepared.

The studies were part of the utilities commission’s review of the CMP project for a certificate of public necessity, a key permit that it granted last April.

In granting the certificate, the utilities commission recognized the pressure that would be put on existing power generation companies. In its report, the commissioners wrote, “The evidence in the record also indicates that the NECEC will likely result in a reduction to wholesale energy prices in Maine and across the New England region.”

 


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