Hydro-Québec looks to send more energy south of the border

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A major infrastructure project is in the works between Hydro-Québec and Central Maine Power (CMP) that could see more Canadian energy exported to the US as early as 2022.

And while the 20-year contract between the two partners was signed in the summer of 2018, the project is currently in the design and permit approval process – on both sides of the border.

“The transmission infrastructure needed on the American side of the border will be taken care of by our partner CMP,” Hydro-Québec spokesperson Lynn St-Laurent told the Nation.
In Quebec, she said the utility is still going through various stages of consultations to come up with a transmission path.

If approved, the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project will carve out a path for a 336-kilometre transmission line (233 kilometres in Maine, 103 in Quebec) from Quebec to Lewiston, Maine.

In addition to raising Hydro-Québec’s revenues in the immediate future (75% of which goes to the provincial government), the deal would also give the Crown Corporation greater access to a foreign market starved for renewable energy options.

“There’s a clean energy transition ongoing right now in the United Sates,” noted St-Laurent. “Many of our neighbouring states have greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

She also notes they are searching for alternative power sources as nuclear reactors are decommissioned.

“There are thousands of megawatts that will be removed from the grid,” St-Laurent emphasized. “And our American neighbours are looking at ways to replace these megawatts.”

The NECEC would also signal some relief for Hydro-Québec’s reservoirs in Eeyou Istchee.

“In 2017, we started spilling water from the reservoirs because transmission was unavailable to deliver that energy to export markets,” she said. “This was the case in 2017 and 2018, and it’s likely to continue if export capacity remains constrained.”

The trend would see higher-than-usual water flows around the dams each spring. Last year even saw a spillway near Kuujjuaq opened that had remained closed since it caused a flood in 1984.

However, a similar project called the Northern Pass that would transport Hydro-Québec’s energy through New Hampshire to Massachusetts is currently locked in litigation, and the NECEC already has its opponents south of the border.

“Anytime you do a major project there will be people who are impacted,” CMP spokesperson John Carroll told the Nation.

“There’s also a process where they have lots of opportunity to comment or criticize, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the project is not worthy and won’t move ahead,” he said in reference to public hearings that took place this past fall in Maine.

The path of the proposed transmission line will cut through the North Maine Woods, a region that had been discussed as a potential national monument in 2016.

“We see two groups who are opposed to this,” insisted Carroll. “Some who are reluctant to change and some who are reluctant to progress.

“Those reluctant to change are the most vocal. But their contentions are based on a ‘not-in-my-backyard’ sentiment,” Carroll continued, while noting that the other group consisted primarily of New England’s current energy producers.

CMP sees cleaner air, construction jobs, and property tax revenues for host towns as the main benefits for Maine, while arguing that the proposed route minimizes negative impacts.

Last October, however, David Publicover, a senior staff scientist at the Appalachian Mountain Club, told Maine’s CBS news affiliate that the NECEC “would be a barrier and impede the movement of many species. It would eliminate an interior forest habitat. We just think there are better ways. There’s no evidence that this would actually produce climate change benefits.”

Chloe Maxmin, a Democratic member of the Maine House of Representatives, also told the Nation that she is “against to the CMP corridor,” but was unable to elaborate via email due to a personal matter.

A petition called Stop the Corridor has sprouted up online to combat the proposed NECEC. “This corridor would be cut through pristine Maine wilderness in order to bring electricity from Canada to Massachusetts, with no stops in between,” claims the online petition.

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