Feb. 2—A federal ruling about a New Hampshire power plant has removed a technical hurdle for the stalled Maine transmission line project backed by Central Maine Power.
The regulatory decision settles a multimillion-dollar dispute between Avangrid Inc., the domestic parent company of Central Maine Power Co. and NECEC Transmission LLC, and Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, which owns the Seabrook, New Hampshire, atomic power station.
The issue before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission involved a circuit breaker at the 1,250-megawatt plant that must be upgraded to allow the New England Clean Energy Connect line to safely connect to the regional grid.
Avangrid filed a complaint in 2020 with FERC saying that NextEra was moving too slowly on the upgrade because cheaper power from the NECEC line would cut into its profits. Seabrook is the largest generator in New England and operates as a "merchant" plant, selling power on the wholesale market. Avangrid said it has agreed to pay for the new circuit breaker.
NextEra countered that it was under no obligation to replace or pay for the breaker because it is part of the plant's generating equipment, not the transmission system. However, the company said it was willing to do so "under reasonable terms and conditions" and had been negotiating with Avangrid.
In a split decision, FERC determined that the circuit breaker is part of the generating equipment, not the transmission system. But it also said NextEra must replace the breaker so the plant could continue reliable operation, and because the breaker would become strained after NECEC connected to the grid.
NECEC would be a high-voltage, direct-current transmission line with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts, enough energy capacity for roughly 1 million homes. It would carry energy from Quebec to a converter station in Lewiston and then to the New England grid. The transmission line is being built largely for the benefit of Massachusetts electric customers, who will pay the $1 billion cost.
Construction of the line is currently suspended, awaiting the outcome of legal challenges. The FERC case was one of several obstacles the project has faced from opponents of the venture.
Following the ruling, a spokesperson for Avangrid said in a statement, "NextEra, a Florida fossil fuel power generator, has opposed the NECEC from the beginning in a desperate attempt to increase the price of electricity it sells to Mainers. The decision is a victory for the project and eliminates yet another effort by fossil fuel interests to block its construction. With natural gas and oil prices spiking, the need for the NECEC is greater now than ever and we look forward to continuing our efforts to bring the largest renewable energy product to Maine and the region."
NextEra Energy did not immediately comment in reaction to the ruling.
In a previous partial victory for NECEC, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in late August that a voter-approved law blocking the project would be unconstitutional if enough work on the transmission line had already been completed.
Now a lower court judge is preparing to determine whether the project had established so-called vested rights before the statewide referendum was held. A trial has been set for April.
In another challenge, the Law Court ruled in November that Central Maine Power has a valid lease to cross a small swath of the state's public lands in order to build the line.
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