Over the weekend, Northern Pass officials were trying to clean up after a bad week in the press. Opponents to the hydroelectric transmission line from Canada to Deerfield were suggesting that Eversource, parent company of Northern Pass Transmission, LLC (NPT), and its Canadian partner, Hydro-Québec (HQ), were not on the same page for the project and New Hampshire residents would ultimately pay for it.
Eversource spent the last few days trying to correct the record after various reports stated that HQ would “not pay a penny” for the Northern Pass line in the United States. The issue began earlier this month when Québec stakeholders asked why the state-owned utility company was paying to bury part of the line in New Hampshire, but refused to do the same in Québec. That led to a series of public statements where HQ said New England electricity consumers would pay for the cost of Northern Pass.
“The claim that they are making, that New Hampshire ratepayers will not be paying any of this cost, needs to be backed up with evidence that Hydro-Québec agrees to that,” Will Abbott, vice president of policy for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, told NH Journal. “It’s not clear that they produced any evidence that HQ has agreed to this as it has been proposed. It certainly seems like the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) shouldn’t be proceeding if there is a question about that issue.”
Northern Pass has reiterated that New Hampshire residents would “not pay for any costs associated with the project.” It’s written all over their website.
However, groups opposed to the project are not convinced that’s true and they point to an “expired” Transmission Service Agreement (TSA) between Eversource and HQ as proof that the two energy companies are not seeing eye-to-eye.
On Tuesday, Will Abbott, vice president of policy for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, one of the biggest challengers of the Northern Pass project, sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen asking for assistance in coordinating an inquiry to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to determine the status of a TSA between the two entities.
“Northern Pass has repeatedly argued that New Hampshire ratepayers are not paying for the construction costs of their project,” the letter states. “They repeatedly cite the TSA as the basis for their claim that Hydro-Québec is paying for the construction of the transmission line.”
The TSA is crucial to the project because it specifies the respective rights and obligations of the parties involved in the project, including the terms for recovery of costs. The FERC-approved TSA is also required before the project can be approved by the SEC.
A Caledonian Record report called into question the current status of the TSA agreement, which began in October 2010. The original agreement stated HQ would reimburse Eversource for all development costs of the now-estimated $1.6 billion Northern Pass line. In December 2013, and HQ amended the agreement, including an extension to the deadline for obtaining all regulatory approvals.
“The parties have agreed to replace the term ‘third anniversary’ with the term ‘approval deadline,’ which is defined to mean Feb. 14, 2017, or such other date to which the parties shall mutually agree in writing,” the agreement states.
In the Forest Society’s letter to Shaheen, they claim that “it has become apparent” that the TSA “has expired, without any replacement agreement.”
“As of today, there is no record that HQ and NPT have agreed on a new TSA, or that they have submitted any new TSA proposal to FERC for its review,” the letter states.
Eversource responded Friday with their own letter to Shaheen saying the Forest Society “wrongly claims” that the TSA expired on February 14.
“The Approval Deadline was, in fact, extended earlier this year by written agreement between NPT and HQ,” the letter states. “Accordingly, the extension of the Approval Deadline was fully consistent with the terms and conditions of the already approved TSA.”
Northern Pass posted Thursday on its website that the term of the TSA began on the original execution date in October 2010 and continues 40 years from the time Northern Pass begins operation, unless it is terminated earlier.
Craig Cano, a spokesman for the FERC, made it clear that the TSA between Eversource and HQ still exists and is in use.
“The TSA was accepted with a 40-year term so [it] does not need to be ‘renewed’ in 2017,” he told NH Journal. “The item…may have confused the provision that set the Feb. 14, 2017 deadline for obtaining all regulatory approvals with the agreement itself.”
That means that Eversource and HQ, back in 2014, set a February 14 deadline for regulatory approvals — state, local, provincial, or federal — that the parties must obtain for the project. The SEC, a regulatory agency, still hasn’t put their final approval on the project, and isn’t expected to make a final decision until this fall. The amended language in the TSA allows for Eversource and HQ to agree on another date for those final approvals, but it doesn’t invalidate the whole TSA, or mean that the agreement has expired.
Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass, told NH Journal that Eversource and HQ agreed in writing earlier this year to extend the deadline and the extension does not need to be filed with the FERC. The extension of the agreement is until 2020 and a copy of the written agreement will be filed with the SEC this week.
Adjudicative hearings of the Northern Pass docket are expected to begin in April, with the SEC to make a final decision on the project by September 30.
Gov. Chris Sununu voiced his support for the project again when he was in Montréal on Monday, as part of his campaign tour to bring businesses to New Hampshire.
“Given our economic dynamics in New Hampshire, given our need for lower energy prices, our rich history with our manufacturing industry, there is no doubt that Northern Pass presents a great opportunity for New Hampshire, a great opportunity for Québec,” he told members of the Canadian press. “It’s a win-win on both sides. It’s a project I always said should happen, could happen, and I believe has to happen.”