Friday May 4, 2012

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A Northeast Utilities executive said Thursday that the warm weather has helped it advance a transmission project in western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Leon Olivier, executive vice president and chief operating officer, told investor analysts on a conference call that the work is nearly two-thirds complete.

The $718 million project, intended to improve reliability during peak use and keep pace with rising electricity demand, is expected to be completed by late next year.

Olivier said Northeast Utilities, parent company of Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and Connecticut Light & Power, can secure rights of way in the Northern Pass power project in New Hampshire without using eminent domain.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed legislation in March prohibiting the use of eminent domain for projects not directly related to his state's power needs, such as Northern Pass. He said the use of eminent domain should be limited to projects intended to benefit the public.

Northern Pass, a 180-mile transmission project to bring Canadian hydropower to southern New England, is debated in northern New Hampshire, where residents say they worry that it would use eminent domain to carve out the 40 miles it needs in the area.

Olivier said 140 miles of the project is to be built along existing rights of way and the remaining 40 miles will require new rights of way. NU is making "good progress" obtaining rights of way and plans to present a new route to federal regulators in the third quarter of this year, he said.

Construction would begin in 2014 and finish by the end of 2016, Olivier said.

NU spent $137 million in this year's first quarter for transmission and expects capital spending of about $675 million this year for transmission, including Northern Pass, he said.

"This line remains the most innovative proposal now before regulators to appreciably lower both the cost of electricity and the amount of carbon emissions in New England," Olivier said.

It also would provide Hydro-Quebec with a new route to move power into New England from generation now under construction in central and northern Quebec, he said.

Northeast Utilities bought Boston-based NStar last month, creating one of the biggest utilities in the United States. When the deal was announced in October 2010, it was touted as a way to help NU pay for large transmission projects intended to bring low-carbon power from Northern New England and Canada to higher population areas in southern New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.