Unswayed by the falling price of oil, one of the most energy-dependent areas in the United States formally committed itself to importing hydroelectric power from Canada for 11 years.
Under terms of the $5 billion contract signed here, the surplus Canadian power - 33 billion kilowatts over the life of the contract - is scheduled to begin flowing to the six New England states by 1986. Monitor correspondent Robert Kilborn Jr. reports that almost 50 percent of New England's electricity is now generated by oil-fired power plants. Most of that oil is imported, causing anxiety every time the White House proposes a $5- to $10-a-barrel tax on imports.
Officials of the New England Power Pool, the US signatory to the contract, estimated 5 million barrels of oil a year would be saved. That is projected to be more than $100 million alone in the first year. The pool is an association of 64 electric utilities, representing 98 percent of the power generation in the region. The hydropower will travel from the James Bay complex in northern Quebec via a high-voltage power line that travels 53 miles through Vermont to a relay station just across the New Hampshire line. All facilities in the US side will have to be built from scratch, at an estimated cost of $152 million.
A coalition of environmentalists objects to the line and is expected to announce this week whether it will sue to block it. But a spokesman for one member group said limited finances may prevent legal action.