Northeast Utilities, which operates Western Massachusetts Electric Co. as part of a multistate system serving more than two million customers, recently filed its plan with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. If approved - possibly early next year - the line could start providing electricity generated by the Canadian utility Hydro-Quebec to about a million Northeast homes as early as 2014.
"This is going to be a very green energy path for the region," said Jim Robb, senior vice president of enterprise planning and development at Northeast Utilities.
Robb said the project could cost between $600 million and $1 billion, though early estimates show the price will probably be about $700 million. An existing right-of-way from the Canadian border to Southern New Hampshire makes possible the line, which will be hundreds of miles long.
Funding will initially come from Northeast Utilities and NStar, which is also a partner in the project. Under the plan, Hydro-Quebec will eventually pay back the money in exchange for access to the line.
Utility officials said the line will help meet requirements put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New England.
"Plainly, over the last year or two there has been a sort of sea change in the energy world across the country and everyone is concerned about reducing carbon and reducing cost and maintaining reliability," said Douglas Horan, NStar's senior vice president of strategy and law. "This line is a good step in respect to all three of those goals."
Seth Kaplan, an environmental advocate with the Conservation Law Foundation, said that even though a transmission line providing hydropower electricity sounds attractive, there are questions about the massive project. In addition to making sure the electricity being generated really is low-carbon, Kaplan said, "We need to be sure that this is not displacing other things we need to do, like energy efficiency, like wind here in New England."