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The Maine Public Utilities Commission on April 11 voted unanimously to grant a permit allowing Central Maine Power Company to move forward with its New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project, which is designed to deliver up to 1,200-megawatts of Canadian hydropower into the Northeast.
The proposed 145-mile high-voltage power line would cross western Maine to supply Massachusetts with renewable energy. The commissioners agreed with a staff report that the ratepayer and economic benefits of the line outweigh the potential harm to recreational values and tourism in the vicinity of the project.
The decision endorses a stipulation filed in February that includes a benefits package totaling $250 million over 40 years. Democratic Governor Janet Mills authorized the Office of Energy to sign onto the agreement, saying that it enhances the project by ensuring long-term benefits to Maine. The benefits will be realized by Maine through funding mechanisms and programs, including a $50-million low-income customer benefits fund and a $140-million rate relief fund.
The project is expected to result in wholesale electricity price reductions and also enhance reliability and fuel security within Maine and the ISO-New England region. Commissioner Randall Davis noted that the hydropower delivered by the project will provide the necessary base load capability to complement the growing penetration of intermittent generation from solar and wind.
The project is under review by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission. The proposal emerged as the winner in Massachusetts' clean energy solicitation program required under a 2016 law, which directed the state's electric distribution companies to competitively bid proposals for an annual amount of about 9,450,000 megawatt-hours of electricity. Massachusetts' decision came after the initial winner, Eversource Energy's Northern Pass power line, failed to obtain regulatory approvals from a New Hampshire siting agency.
Central Maine Power is a unit of Avangrid Networks Inc., which is owned by Iberdrola SA.
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The agency’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, which will provide the funding under its fiscal year 2019 program, expects to make 55 to 80 awards, each ranging from $200,000 to $5 million for a total of $130 million.
The legislation also mandates the adoption of energy efficiency and load management programs by every public utility, such that by 2025 they achieve savings of at least 5% of 2020 total retail kilowatt-hour sales to eligible New Mexico customers.
An underlying theme of this year’s conference, whether by design or accident, certainly became about climate change and practical solutions to a polarizing problem.