United States: Key Permit Granted For New England Clean Power Link

The Vermont Public Service Board has issued a Certificate of Public Good (the "Certificate") for the New England Clean Power Link Project (the "Project"), a 1,000MW high voltage direct current transmission line to be constructed and operated under Lake Champlain and in surrounding areas. The Project is intended to carry electricity into Vermont generated by wind, hydro and other renewable sources in Canada, connecting New England power markets to Canada's green energy resources. 

The Certificate represents a major milestone in the development of the Project, surviving the public comment period and related hearings, and emerging with a comprehensive state-level approval. The petitioner is ultimately owned by the Blackstone Group, a publicly traded investment and advisory firm with more than $300 billion in assets under management.

The line will run from the Canadian border, 98 miles under Lake Champlain and then 56 miles overland to Ludlow, Vermont, where high voltage direct current will be converted to grid-friendly alternating current at a specially constructed substation. On the Canadian side, the Project will interconnect with a transmission subsidiary of Hydro-Quebec, and will enter into various power purchase agreements with energy suppliers. Per the terms of the Certificate, all electricity transmitted through the line must derive from qualified renewable energy sources, including any "technology that relies on a resource that is being consumed at a harvest rate at or below its natural regeneration rate". Although designed to be largely autonomous in function, operational control of the Project will be delegated to ISO New England. Following final permitting, construction is expected to commence in 2016, with a projected commercial operation date in 2019.

The useful life of the Project is expected to span at least 40 years, and it is anticipated that the line would transmit over 8,000 gigawatt hours of power per year; enough to power approximately a million homes according to testimony before the Public Service Board. By the petitioner's estimation, the influx will reduce energy prices by $2.48 per megawatt hour (6%) in Vermont and $1.04 per MWh (2.5%) in New England, with total projected wholesale savings in excess of $1.5 billion.

The Certificate incorporates agreements with various agencies and stakeholders, including the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and localities which hold permitting authority over portions of the line. However, a multitude of permitting obstacles remain. The Department of Energy must grant a Presidential Permit for cross-border transmission facilities, and must conduct an environmental impact review under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Army Corps of Engineers must issue a certification for the portion of the Project that traverses navigable waters. And while FERC has granted conditional authority for the sale of certain transmission rights, the Federal Highway Administration must ratify the Vermont Agency of Transportation's decision to grant a permit for the use of certain highways.

The Certificate may be found here: http://psb.vermont.gov/sites/psb/files/orders/2016/January/8400%20CPG.pdf

And the Public Service Board's full findings and order may be found here: http://psb.vermont.gov/sites/psb/files/orders/2016/January/8400%20Final%20Order.pdf

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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