During the process for selecting the winner of the Massachusetts request for proposals to provide millions of megawatts of low-carbon energy to Massachusetts over 20 years, people wondered whether the process was rigged for Northern Pass. After all, both Northern Pass and one of the Massachusetts distribution utilities deciding the winner are subsidiaries of Eversource Energy. Eversource MA played a critical role in crafting the legislation establishing the process and in drafting the terms of the RFP and it had the most members of the evaluation team that was charged with selecting the winning bid. When it was announced on January 25, 2018 that the Northern Pass-Hydro Quebec proposal had been conditionally selected, more questions about the inherent conflicts were raised.

But it was all just speculation – until the independent evaluator hired to monitor the solicitation and evaluation process issued its report at the end of July. 

In its redacted report, the independent evaluator, Peregrine Energy Group, stated:

Based on our observations, Eversource favored, or had the appearance of favoring, NPT in various stages of the evaluation and selection process, especially toward the end. This included the deliberations with respect to the interest rate assumption in the quantitative evaluation and the qualitative evaluation with respect to several criteria, including [redacted]. This was also the case with respect to the Stage 3 and bid selection process, where Eversource focused on aspects of the evaluation, evaluation metrics and assumptions that supported selection of Northern Pass. It was perhaps even more apparent when Eversource sought to keep NPT in play for contract negotiations even after the required New Hampshire siting approval was denied, with a remote possibility for a prompt reversal in order for Northern Pass to be able to build the project anywhere near the time frame proposed.

Despite Eversource’s efforts to promote Northern Pass, the independent evaluator believed in the end the other participants and the independent evaluator had “counteracted any favoritism on the part of Eversource.”

There were some other noteworthy findings in the independent evaluator’s reports. The three distribution utilities, subsidiaries of Eversource, National Grid and Unitil, deadlocked over which proposal to select, so it was the state Department of Energy Resources that actually made the initial selection of Northern Pass. Despite the fact that the proposal from Central Maine Power had the highest quantitative score, the state DOER picked Northern Pass because Northern Pass had claimed in its bid it would be operational in 2020, two years earlier than Central Maine Power.  According to the independent evaluator, “DOER concluded that NPT’s greater certainty for an earlier in-service date gave it the advantage as the winning bid in light of the urgent need to meet {Global Warming Act Solution] goals, as well continuing concerns for near-term winter reliability stresses on the regional electric grid exacerbated by pending generator retirements.”  

For anyone who was even casually following the Northern Pass saga, it is stunning that the state DOER found Northern Pass’s claim that it would be operational in 2020 believable. 

At the time it selected Northern Pass in January 2018, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee had not yet rendered its decision on whether or not to grant Northern Pass a site certificate.  Even in the best case scenario – the SEC approves Northern Pass in February 2018 and no opposing intervenor appealed and no private landowner filed a lawsuit based on violations of easements granted to Eversource decades ago – it would be impossible for Northern Pass to be operational in just two years. In its efforts to win approval from the SEC, Northern Pass made numerous promises to not do construction in certain parts of the route during different times of the year and during limited hours of the day. And it was never going to be the best case scenario. Objecting intervenors would certainly have filed for a motion for rehearing if the SEC had approved Northern Pass, and, based on what happened with Northern Pass’s motion for rehearing of the SEC’s denial, it would have taken about six months for the SEC to rule on that. At that point if the SEC had denied the rehearing request, opposing intervenors would have appealed to the Supreme Court. Moreover, there were people who owned land that Northern Pass would have been built on who had already hired lawyers to file lawsuits over easement rights.    

The independent evaluator’s report also describes the desperate efforts the Massachusetts Eversource subsidiary made to have Northern Pass retain the bid award after the Site Evaluation Committee voted 7-0 to deny a site certificate to Northern Pass.   Again the distribution utilities deadlocked on how to proceed so the state DOER decided the group would commence negotiations with Central Maine Power and give Northern Pass until March 27 to try to get a reversal from the SEC. When the selection steering committee met on March 26, it was clear that Northern Pass could not meet the next day deadline, so Eversource pleaded for yet more time for its sister subsidiary. 

National Grid supported terminating negotiations with NPT and continuing negotiations with NECEC (“NECEC” is the acronym for the name of Central Maine Power’s project). Eversource opposed terminating negotiations with NPT, indicating that the bidder should be given more time to reverse the denial and obtain the required permit, and that negotiations should continue with both NPT and NECEC, with a decision on which deal to execute to be made at the end of the negotiations. Unitil stated that given the difference in opinion between Eversource and National Grid, it was up to DOER to make the final selection decision.  

At this point the independent evaluator had had enough of Eversource’s wrangling for Northern Pass, and said to the group “that the likelihood of NPT being able to reverse the NHSEC decision and obtain its permit within any reasonable timeframe was remote. Further, the IE expressed the view that Eversource’s continuing effort to keep NPT in the running represented favoritism or at least the appearance of favoritism toward its affiliate.” The Massachusetts DOER then decided to terminate negotiations with Northern Pass once and for all.  

Up here in New Hampshire, Eversource doesn’t even bother with the pretense of a legitimate bidding process. Eversource NH actually submitted a proposal to the NH Public Utilities Commission for a no-bid contract to buy 10 percent of the power Hydro Quebec would transmit over the Northern Pass extension cord. If the Supreme Court ever reverses the SEC’s unanimous decision to deny a site certificate to Northern Pass, keep your eyes and ears open for an even larger no-bid proposal from Eversource.