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Despite the pandemic, three projects that would transmit renewable power are moving forward

image credit: © Marcello Celli | Dreamstime.com

Although much of the world seems to be standing still thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic, three big transmission projects driven by the demand for renewable energy are chugging along.

In the Granite State, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a permit to Central Maine Power for construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project, which would bring hydropower from Quebec to electricity customers in Massachusetts.

In Wyoming, Rocky Mountain Power last month asked the state Department of Environmental Quality to approve a new estimated workforce for Gateway West, which is part of the Energy Gateway Transmission Expansion.

Also in Wyoming, TransWest Express has acquired all the state and county permits it needs for its proposed TransWest Express Transmission Project, as well as rights-of-way for 92 percent of the project’s route.

Both Gateway West and TransWest Express would transport wind power.

The New England Clean Energy Connect is the most controversial of the three projects. It would include a new high voltage direct current transmission line running 147 miles through western Maine; 50 miles of existing alternating current lines; and two substations, one to convert direct current to alternating current.

The new HDVC line is the source of much of the opposition to the project as a new corridor would have to be constructed for the 53 miles of it that runs through commercial timberland. A poll of Maine residents last year found that 65 percent of respondents opposed the project, while only 15 percent supported it.

The permit that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection granted on May 11 contains conditions that might ease some of the opposition. They include limiting the width of the new corridor to 54 feet instead of the 150 feet originally requested; requiring the preservation of natural forest canopy or trees at least 35 feet tall across the corridor in 14 miles of vulnerable habitat areas; and requiring the permanent conservation of 40,000 acres in western Maine.

Easing opposition to NECEC may still be necessary for the project to get built, thanks to a referendum that will give Maine voters a chance to have their say on it at the ballot box in November.

CMP and its parent, Avangrid, have been fighting to keep the referendum off the ballot and recently filed a lawsuit claiming it violates the Maine constitution because it attempts to overturn the decision of a state agency rather than an act of the state legislature and because it violates a separation of powers provision of the constitution.

In addition to having the referendum removed from the ballot, or defeating it if it’s kept on the ballot, the Avangrid subsidiary that would build and run the project needs to have it certified by the Army Corps of Engineers; get a permit from the U.S. Department of Energy for it; and get it approved by ISO New England.

Avangrid’s CEO said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call that Avangrid expects to get ISO-NE’s approval by the end of the second quarter, Army Corps certification in the early third quarter and the DOE permit 60 days after it gets both of those.

In Wyoming, Rocky Mountain Power is seeking approval of a new estimated workforce for its Gateway West project from the state Department of Environmental Quality. The company originally expected to have a peak of 511 employees working on the project but has increased that to 713.

In its letter seeking the approval, Rocky Mountain Power said it has met with local officials who had concerns over the influx of workers in light of the pandemic. The company still must run a legal notice to let the public know about its request for the increased workforce.

Rocky Mountain Power had planned to do significant work on the project over the winter and early spring, but now intends to take through October to do that work. It expects to pick up the pace of the work once sage grouse seasonal restrictions are lifted in July and still anticipates finishing the project on time.

Gateway West is a joint project by Rocky Mountain Power’s parent, PacifiCorp, and Idaho Power that consists of 1,000 new miles of transmission lines in Wyoming and Idaho. It comprises half the new lines that PacifiCorp plans to construct in the Energy Gateway Transmission Expansion, which the company announced in 2007. Three major segments of the Energy Gateway are done and in service.

The TransWest Express Transmission Project would be a 730-mile transmission line that winds through four states and has its northern terminal in Wyoming. The 3,000 megawatt Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which is under construction in Carbon County, Wyoming, would funnel power into it. 

The company behind the project hopes to meet all the regulatory requirements for it next year and begin construction on it late next year.

 

 

 

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