The case for studying our regional energy needs continues to build

Christophe Courchesne

Map of Northeast Energy Link (potential route in yellow)

Earlier this week, National Grid, Emera, and First Wind announced preliminary plans for a major new transmission project between northeastern Maine and Massachusetts – the Northeast Energy Link (NEL).  The financing structure for the project, known as “participant funding,” is similar to the structure that federal regulators approved for the Northern Pass project in 2009.  NEL would consist of 220 miles of underground, high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines, apparently to be sited in existing rights of way and transportation corridors, that would deliver 1,100 megawatts of power from future wind projects in northern Maine, as well as additional imports from Canada, to southern New England. National Grid and its partners have apparently found a way to make the economics of burying lines in already disturbed corridors work.  This development deeply undermines the continued refusal of the proponents of the Northern Pass project, despite CLF’s and others’ repeated requests, to consider the same approach.

NEL is an intriguing proposal, particularly because it emphasizes New England-based wind resources. As with Northern Pass, the proposal warrants thorough review through robust, comprehensive permitting processes.

More immediately, the proposal underscores the urgent need for the regional energy study CLF and others are requesting within the Northern Pass permitting process.  There simply is no comprehensive plan in place addressing the best approaches for facilitating imports of Canadian power, if needed, and for adequately connecting homegrown renewable resources in remote areas to customers in southern New England.  With no plan, all we can do is react, piecemeal, to each private proposal that comes along.  Our energy and environmental agencies should be assessing the need for new transmission projects and then should consider only the best approaches that prioritize energy efficiency, minimize environmental impacts, reduce our reliance on the dirtiest power plants, and provide real public benefits. 

The recent delays in the Northern Pass review mean that the U.S. Department of Energy has a golden opportunity to help develop a regional plan, along with other stakeholders in the New England states and elsewhere in the Northeast.  CLF-NH Director Tom Irwin and a number of the other organizations that joined our motion to DOE seeking such a study make the case on the op-ed page of today’s Concord Monitor.  You can access the op-ed here.

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