Fate of Transmission Line to Mass Depends on Maine Voters | New


BOSTON – The fate of a plan to bring Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts to help meet the state’s renewable energy needs is in the hands of voters in Maine.

Voters in that state went to the polls on Tuesday to determine whether to allow construction of a 145-mile hydroelectric transmission corridor across western Maine.

The referendum will ask voters if they wish to ban the construction of high-impact power transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region and will require a two-thirds vote from the state legislature for large-scale transmission projects on the public lands.

The poll question targets the $ 1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project, which is overseen by Central Maine Power Company and aims to import up to 1,200 megawatts of electricity from Hydro-Quebec dams. Most of the electricity would be sent to Massachusetts along the transmission corridor.

A similar referendum was overturned last year by Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court, but opponents of the project gathered 80,000 signatures to make this year’s ballot and changed the wording of the question to pass the legal test.

The possibility of the hydro project being scuttled by Maine voters has major implications for Massachusetts clean energy goals.

A 2016 law requires utilities in Bay State to purchase hydropower and other renewables to combat climate change and diversify the state’s energy portfolio.

Avangrid, parent company of Central Maine Power, says the clean energy project is good for Maine and the environment, and will reduce carbon emissions that scientists say contribute to global warming.

The Clean Energy Matters group, a political action committee supporting the project, says the project will create 1,600 jobs and lower consumers’ energy bills.

“Two-thirds of the clean energy corridor will be built along existing power lines,” the group said in a statement. “The rest will pass through a logged commercial forest, where logging has continued for generations.”

But opponents say the project will dig scenic swathes of forest in the woods of northern Maine and lead to a loss of jobs and recreational tourism.

They described it as an “extension” that crosses the state to Massachusetts and which would bring little, if any, benefit to Maine.

“The real jobs the Mainers now have in the biomass industry, allied forest products industry and recreational tourism would be at risk if this line were approved,” said Sandi Howard, of the No CMP Corridor group, a coalition opposed to the project. “This project would result in a net loss of jobs, not a gain.”

In Massachusetts, authorities scrambled to import hydropower after a first choice for supply was abandoned. A 192-mile transmission line project crossing New Hampshire was rejected by state regulators in 2018 over concerns it would hurt property values ​​and the granite state’s tourism industry.

Meanwhile, Bay State leaders face ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

A climate change bill signed by Governor Charlie Baker in March requires the state to meet additional targets every five years to achieve a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 before reaching the 2050 target .

The plan includes expanding the use of wind, solar and hydroelectric power.

Overall, the hydroelectric project is expected to deliver 1,200 megawatts of clean energy per year to the New England grid.

Environmental groups, which have pushed Massachusetts away from its dependence on fossil fuels and natural gas, want the state to speed up the shift to wind, solar and renewable energy.

While some environmentalists support hydropower as an alternative to expanding the use of natural gas to heat homes and keep the lights on, they point out that hydropower also has downsides.

These include forests lost to flooding for new dams, the release of carbon dioxide from decaying trees after the floods, and falling river levels.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the websites of the North of Boston Media Group. Email him at [email protected]

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