Should Northern New England Host Massachusetts’ Renewable Energy Extension Cord?

A play by Massachusetts to inject more renewable power into its electricity mix could reshape the entire region’s energy landscape. Dozens of developers are competing to offer Massachusetts the best price for long-term contracts to supply clean energy to hundreds of thousands of homes. 

But many of the projects also face another challenge: convincing residents of Northern New England it’s in their interest to host the Bay State’s extension cord.

For all the attention renewable power gets, it still provides only about 10 percent of New England’s electrical energy. The region’s recent successes in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases have come, to the greatest degree, from the rise of relatively-clean burning natural gas as the dominant power source.

“To me, that’s the story in New England,” says Sara Burns, CEO of Central Maine Power, Maine’s largest utility.

She says big, long-term renewable energy contracts being sought by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker could mark a tipping point.  “Actually, I think that’s what Charlie Baker’s trying to do here, to make bigger plays to make a bigger difference on this.”

Burns is a close follower of Baker’s plan, because it’s about more than just windmills, dams and big solar farms – it’s about the high-voltage transmission lines her company specializes in, the kind needed to transport bulk electricity from remote locations to market. CMP is one of a half dozen companies bidding to build transmission lines 100 miles long and more, running from, or through, the three northern New England states to link up to Massachusetts.

Billions of dollars are at stake, and each of the bidders is trying to highlight selling points – even as they fend off challenges from competitors and critics.  

“There is a very large, committed activist base that is mobilized against this project,” says Sam Evans-Brown, who hosts New Hampshire Public Radio’s Outside/In podcast, and who, for seven years, has watched…

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