A major new transmission line intended to pipe carbon-free hydropower from Canada into the U.S. Northeast has met a powerful opponent: the world’s largest provider of renewable energy. The 145-mile (233-kilometer), nearly $1 billion transmission line, known as New England Clean Energy Connect, broke ground in February after nearly three years of review by regulators. If completed, it would be able to import 1.2 gigawatts of electricity from the Canadian utility Hydro-Quebec. That’s enough to reduce carbon emissions in the region by 3.6 million metric tons a year, according to the project’s developer, Avangrid Inc., or about 12% compared to 2019 levels.
While the company has said little publicly about the transmission project, it’s been quietly financing a ballot initiative in Maine that could halt construction on conservation grounds. It also has yet to begin a mandatory upgrade at one of its facilities to support the surge of power onto the grid.
“Of course NextEra doesn’t want it,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at advocacy group Public Citizen. “They’ve got lots of power in the region that’s threatened.”
Though the new link will go through Maine, the power will mostly serve Massachusetts customers, lowering their monthly energy bills by as much as 4%, the developers say. NextEra’s New England assets include a nuclear facility and an oil-burning power plant, both of which would face increased competition from the influx of power. NextEra’s allies in the fight against the project include Calpine Corp. and Vistra Corp., each of which operates multiple natural gas plants in the region.
Vistra didn’t respond to requests for comment on the initiative to block the transmission line. Calpine spokesman Brett Kerr said that the company “supports the rights of Maine citizens to be heard and respects the fact that Maine voters have a constitutional right to decide on matters of statewide importance.”
NextEra, Calpine, and Vistra are all members of the New England Power Generators Association, whose president, Dan Dolan, said the flood of cheap hydropower stands to “suppress prices for the rest of the market” and make it difficult for existing suppliers to compete. Some power plants may be forced to close, and the loss of those assets could pose a threat to reliability in the region, he said. “We have a lot of concerns,” Dolan added.
To Paul Patterson, a utility analyst with the research company Glenrock Associates, that’s a polite way of saying they’re concerned with their bottom lines. “There’s no merchant generator in New England that wants to see low-cost Canadian hydro show up on their doorstep,” he said. “You don’t stand to benefit.”
NextEra spokesperson Steven Stengel said its dispute with Avangrid is solely because the companies have been unable to agree on terms for the upgrade, a circuit breaker at its Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire. The improvements must be completed by the time construction on the transmission line finishes in 2023. Federal regulators have said that while Avangrid must ultimately cover the cost, the work is NextEra’s responsibility. The developer has been complaining to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory commission since last year that NextEra has been dragging its feet, a charge the energy giant denies.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Thorn Dickinson, vice president of business development at Avangrid. “I wasn’t aware how good the fossil fuel industry has gotten at creating mistrust and disinformation to protect their bottom line.”