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Massachusetts High-Tech Business Group: Major Clean Energy Deals Should Be Affordable

Dec 29, 2017Council in the News, MassLive.com

By Mary C. Serreze

As Massachusetts prepares to import large amounts of renewable energy, a technology-centered business group is emphasizing that any long-term clean power contracts sanctioned by the state should be affordable.

On Thursday, the Massachusetts High Technology Council wrote to Department of Energy Resources commissioner Judith Judson, saying the DOER should prioritize ratepayer impacts as it considers a slew of competing transmission projects under the Massachusetts Clean Energy RFP, a competitive solicitation for low-carbon electricity.

“Make no mistake, cost matters,” wrote council president Christopher R. Anderson.  “We support the Commonwealth’s efforts to be a national leader in renewable energy, but we must all be mindful of the impact energy costs have on job creation and our reputation as a leader in the innovation economy.”

The first-round winners of lucrative power supply contracts with Eversource, National Grid and Unitil are expected to be announced Jan. 25.  Negotiations will be completed by March 27 and contracts sent to utility regulators for review by April 25.

As part of the bid process, five partnerships have proposed major power lines to carry clean electricity from Canada, northern New England, and northern New York for use by Massachusetts, with its aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The power, or its renewable energy credits, would come from hydro dams, wind farms and solar facilities.

Stated capital costs for the power lines have run from $950 million to $1.6 billion, but factors such as in-service date, operating costs, capacity and upstream contracts could also affect the ratepayer impact per kilowatt-hour.  The project costs would be borne by ratepayers, but the developers say their projects will benefit consumers.

Technology council spokesman Mark Gallagher said Friday that the business leaders are not endorsing any one transmission or generation proposal, but that the DOER should put cost considerations on the front burner in their decision-making.

“Massachusetts has some of the highest energy costs in the country,” he said.  “This puts us at a comparative disadvantage.” 

The technology council, along with Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Business Round Table, recently hosted a webinar where the competing clean energy developers discussed their proposals, Gallagher said.

Of the major transmission proposals, Eversource’s Northern Pass would cut through New Hampshire. Avangrid’s New England Clean Energy Connect would make use of a Central Maine Power corridor.  TDI’s New England Clean Power Link would travel beneath Lake Champlain in Vermont. The three have potential deals set up with Hydro-Quebec.

Emera proposes an undersea cable from Atlantic Canada, with its own hydro dams and wind farms. National Grid, partnering with Citizens Energy, has two transmission proposals of its own.

The bid evaluation team includes representatives from the utilities and the state’s energy department. An independent evaluator is overseeing the closed-door process.  The panel is considering a range of criteria, including cost, reliability and “community benefit.”

The utilities have the right to reject contracts that are not “reasonable.”  Meanwhile, developers have been touting their projects’ comparative benefits to consumers and the environment.  Public versions of the bid documents, submitted in July, are available online.

Because Eversource and National Grid, which have utility representatives on the evaluation team, are also involved in project development, they have agreed to an ethics standard that blocks internal communication around the procurement process.

The bid process was set up to comply with a 2016 state law designed to diversify the region’s power grid while reducing emissions.  A separate Massachusetts solicitation seeks 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind.

The Massachusetts High Technology Council is an association of CEOs and senior executives that advocate for a healthy and competitive business climate.

Increasingly, the Massachusetts High Technology Council is stepping up to create, execute, and lead critical statewide competitiveness strategies. Fostering a vision for our innovation economy under the MassVision2050 banner, the Council solidifies its position as a thought leader providing valuable insights to navigate emerging technologies, facilitates long-term planning, and reinforces the Council's commitment to excellence and action in the evolving Massachusetts tech-driven economy.

To learn more, contact Council President Chris Anderson.