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Sununu announces support for proposed transmission lines for Canadian hydropower

Annie Ropeik
Transmission lines are the large poles and wires that move electricity across long distances.

Gov. Chris Sununu expressed his support today for a proposed electric transmission project that could bring hydropower from Canada into New England through Vermont and New Hampshire.

The Twin States Clean Energy Link is a proposal to move that hydropower using existing routes for power lines and new, buried power lines along state roadways.

“Twin States is a thoughtfully designed project that respects New Hampshire's natural beauty, minimizing visual impacts while delivering much-needed new clean energy to our state and across New England,” Sununu wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy.

National Grid, which already owns and operates transmission lines in the region, and the non-profit Citizens Energy Corporation, are collaborating on the project, and partnering with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association.

The proposal comes after yearslong efforts in New England to bring Canadian hydropower into the region, including the failed Northern Pass project.

For more on Canadian hydropower, listen to Outside/In’s 2017 series “Powerline”

What would this look like?

The transmission lines along existing corridors and new buried transmission lines would provide 1,200 megawatts of transmission capacity between Quebec and New England.

In New Hampshire, about 25 miles of the transmission route would be buried along Route 135 near Dalton, Littleton and Monroe. About 110 miles of transmission would be located within current infrastructure; existing lines would be replaced with new wires that can handle more electricity.

The project would connect with the New England power grid in Londonderry.

Click here for a map of the Twin States proposal

National Grid says it would help keep the power grid more reliable, save customers billions of dollars and create thousands of construction jobs. The project will also dedicate $100 million towards “community benefit programs” that could take the shape of energy assistance, weatherization or neighborhood renewable energy developments.

National Grid says they expect to receive support in New Hampshire, despite previous resistance to transmission development in the state, because it’s making use of existing transmission corridors and does not require buying a lot of land or creating new routes for transmission.

“As a result, New Hampshire communities would receive significant new benefits in the form of property tax revenues, while experiencing minimal impacts,” said John Lamontagne, a National Grid spokesperson.

National Grid also says it could help support clean energy development in New England, because the transmission lines would be bi-directional, meaning they could bring Canadian hydropower into New England, but also bring extra electricity from New England back to Quebec.

Sam Evans-Brown, executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire, said the bi-directional capability is the most interesting part of the project.

“Really what we're talking about is not necessarily just a source of generation, but it's a source of flexibility and the ability to move power to where it's needed,” he said. “That could be north to south as it has traditionally been, or it could be south to north as we start to build out more renewable sources here in New England.”

After encouraging U.S. developers to connect New England states with Canadian hydropower for years, Hydro-Quebec is now facing the possibility of power shortfalls, Bloomberg reportedlast week. The power producer may need to fix up power plants, build wind farms, and consider building new dams and transmission lines.

National Grid says the Twin States project would “almost serve like battery storage,” using Canadian hydropower to balance variable renewable resources in New England, and wouldn’t need to be “always on.”

Large-scale hydropower from Canada has been somewhat controversial in Vermont, which already gets about a quarter of its electricity from Hydro-Quebec. As Vermont Public reported, some advocates say structuring so much of the state’s renewable energy around that resource does not actually help bring new clean power online.

Canadian hydropower has also faced scrutiny from environmental groups, who say it damages habitats for marine ecosystems, releases methane, erodes coasts and can harm people.

Hydro-Quebec has built dams in Canada on the ancestral territory of First Nations, making major changes to the landscape without notifying people who lived there.

The Pessamit Innu First Nation opposed the Northern Pass when it was being discussed in New Hampshire. Almost one third of the hydro dams in Quebec were built on that First Nation’s ancestral territory.

In 2021, a coalition made up of five First Nations tribes filed a lawsuit against Hydro-Quebec aiming to stop a power line project in Maine.

What’s the timeline?

National Grid is applying to be part of the United States Department of Energy’s Transmission Facilitation Program, which aims to help build large-scale transmission lines.

The company said it was selected in late April to participate in the second part of the application process, and plans to submit a full application in June.

If the project is chosen by the Department of Energy, it will need to get permits from state and federal regulators to move forward. National Grid said 2026 is the earliest construction could start.

In New Hampshire, the Site Evaluation Committee, which makes decisions about projects like transmission lines, is under scrutiny. A bill proposed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives this year would have overhauled that process and shifted the committee’s duties to the Public Utilities Commission. That bill was retained in its committee.

What other transmission lines are on the table? 

An effort to bring Canadian hydropower into New England through Maine has faced pushback in the state. The project was voted down by Maine residents in 2021, but after a Maine Supreme Court ruling and a jury trial, Central Maine Power will be allowed to proceed with its project, the New England Clean Energy Connect.

A project with a similar name, New England Clean Power Link, has also applied for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Transmission Facilitation Program. This project in Vermont proposes transmission lines underneath Lake Champlain, connecting New England with Canadian hydropower. Earlier this year VTDigger reported Governor Phil Scott had renewed excitement about the project, after it was passed over by Massachusetts in favor of the Northern Pass project.

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Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.