New England Clean Energy Connect

Since 2017, Pierce Atwood has represented Avangrid Networks, Inc. and its affiliates CMP and NECEC Transmission LLC on all aspects of the development of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a $1 billion, 147-mile high-voltage direct current transmission line that will interconnect the New England transmission system with the Hydro-Quebec (HQ) transmission system at the Canadian border in western Maine. The NECEC will deliver 1,200 MW of hydropower generated by Hydro-Quebec to the New England grid around the clock for at least 40 years. As found by the Maine PUC, this project promises to reduce the cost of electricity in Maine and New England by tens of millions of dollars each year, increase the reliability of the New England electric grid, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.0-3.6 million metric tons annually (the equivalent of removing 700,000 cars from the road).

Our work began by taking the lead in preparing the proposal for the project in a competitive solicitation conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (MA DOER) and Massachusetts electric distribution companies (EDCs) for up to 9,450,000 MWh of clean energy generation and associated transmission. In early 2018, the MA DOER and the EDCs selected the NECEC as the winning bid in the solicitation. Thereafter, Pierce Atwood assisted CMP to negotiate the definitive transmission services agreements (TSAs) with the EDCs and HQ for the project.

In addition to preparing and submitting the proposal and negotiating the applicable agreements, we serve as lead counsel on all aspects of developing the NECEC project in the U.S. This includes obtaining a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the Maine PUC in May 2019, the decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirming the CPCN in March 2020, an order approving the TSAs by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in June 2019, affirmed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in September 2020, certification from the Maine Land Use Planning Commission in February 2020, Site Law and Natural Resource Protection Act permits from Maine Department of Environmental Protection in May 2020, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits in November 2020, and a Presidential Permit from the U.S. Department of Energy in January 2021. We continue to defend the project and its permits in various appeals and other litigation matters before the State Courts of Maine, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals. We also completed the transfer of the project from CMP to NECEC Transmission, a special purpose affiliate created to own and operate the project, including obtaining all regulatory approvals needed for this transaction. With all permits in hand and the transfer complete, construction of the NECEC commenced in January 2021.

Pierce Atwood also has represented Avangrid with respect to two different citizens’ initiatives seeking to have Maine voters approve legislation to block the project, including a successful 2020 constitutional challenge to the first proposed initiative before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, before this initiative appeared on the ballot. In November 2021, Maine voters enacted a second initiative intending to block the project. As a result of the second initiative, construction of the project was suspended. In Summer and Fall 2022, the firm received two favorable decisions from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, reversing decisions of the lower courts regarding the second initiative and a challenge to a necessary transmission corridor lease issued by the State of Maine. Through these decisions, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the validity of public lands lease, declared one section of the second initiative unconstitutional under the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and remanded the case back to the trial court to determine as a matter of fact whether the retroactive application of the remaining sections of the second initiative would deny Avangrid its vested rights in the project in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Maine Constitution. Because time is of the essence for the project, we pressed for an expedited schedule for the remand proceedings, and this constitutional claim was tried before a jury over eight days in April 2023. The jury deliberated for approximately 75 minutes and returned a unanimous verdict in Avangrid’s favor. Based on this verdict, the trial court entered a final judgment barring application of the second initiative to the project and no party appealed the judgment. This clears the way for construction of this important energy infrastructure project to resume.