Sustainable energy includes hydro

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The Ellsworth American, Editorial

The New England states, and many other regions of the country, are legislating reduced greenhouse gas emissions for our energy production, as well as clean energy goals for the future. The increased use of natural gas as a primary energy producer for New England has dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions impact and helped hasten the replacement of older coal- and oil-generating power stations. Wind and solar generating capacity is increasing but remains a very small contributor to our total energy supply.

The proposed New England Clean Energy Connect Project would connect Maine — and New England’s — electric grid to Quebec’s massive Hydro-Quebec system via an expanded transmission line traveling through Western Maine. Hydro-Quebec is a giant reservoir and dam electricity generator that produced 34.4 terrawatts (THw’s) of electricity last year, enough power for 6 million users.

Unfortunately, approximately 10.4 terrawatts of energy were “spilled” (water was released without generating power) due to over-capacity behind the dams and no outlets for the power into a grid. Hydro-Quebec is a clean, renewable, dispatchable liquid energy source — in our backyard — that today is pouring a significant portion of that resource onto the ground, unused.

And therein lies one of the major assets of Hydro-Quebec. It is dispatchable, meaning its energy is available at the flick of a switch. It is a zero-carbon fuel that is ready to meet the region’s carbon reduction goals. Unlike wind and solar, which each have long periods of relatively low output that require other fuels to be ramped up to replace them, Hydro-Quebec’s energy is controllable, on-demand, reliable energy ready right now.

The New England Clean Energy Connect Project put forth by Central Maine Power would use 135 miles of existing transmission line corridor for 72 percent of the route. Some 54 miles of the powerline route, the other 28 percent, is routed across private lands under easements. No public lands are involved.

In the end, Maine gains one larger transmission line that extends to existing substations, relaying clean power to the New England grid and lowering overall electricity rates.

While wind and solar expansion will play a role in reaching stated carbon-reduction goals, these remotely located projects also entail massive transmission line projects to connect to New England’s power grid. Until battery technology can meet the storage capacity needed to hold weeks’ worth of alternative energy to meet fluctuating demand, wind and solar energy sources will remain peripheral suppliers of clean energy.

Connecting to the Hydro-Quebec system provides access to clean energy right now. No subsidies for ratepayers needed. This is a proven and practical path to reducing carbon-based fuel consumption. This is especially relevant as several carbon-fuel generators will retire from the system over the next 10 years. This would leave the Hydro-Quebec project as the most cost-effective power source available to New England’s electricity users.

Our alternative energy goals are laudable. They must include hydro. Electricity demands are growing and will ramp up quickly as energy-intensive carbon-based electricity generators are removed from the grid and our driving fleet moves to electric power.

The New England Clean Energy Connect Project will have impacts not favorable to all. Yet this is a reasonable, sound, cost-responsible approach to meeting current and future energy goals using an abundant, already available clean energy source.

In Quebec, clean energy goes to waste. Let’s use it.

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Boston Globe Editorial

Once again, a planned electric transmission line from Canada to New England has created an odd alliance between a few environmental groups and fossil fuel interests determined to stop it.

Once again, the climate stands to be the big loser.

Zero-carbon hydropower from Quebec, generated at 63 massive dams owned by the provincial utility company Hydro-Quebec, offers a realistic way for Massachusetts and the rest of New England to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — fast.

The Massachusetts Legislature passed, and Governor Charlie Baker signed, a law in 2016 that authorized utilities to import huge amounts of Canadian hydropower. But the first winner of the state’s contract, the Northern Pass transmission line through New Hampshire, stalled because of opposition from fossil fuel generators, environmentalists, and one New Hampshire regulatory body. Now Massachusetts’ second choice, a $950 million, 145-mile power line through western Maine, has met with a lukewarm reception from Maine Governor-elect Janet Mills.

Pushback was to be expected from fossil fuel generators, who had lobbied against the 2016 Massachusetts law and don’t think it’s fair to compete against a resource subsidized by state ratepayers. But the opposition of some environmental groups who say it won’t really add new clean power, such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, is simply bewildering.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before. Whether its opposition to preserving emission-free nuclear power; fighting natural gas pipelines needed to displace coal, oil, and imported liquefied natural gas; or lobbying against federal carbon-capture incentives designed to clean up fossil fuel use, environmental advocates too often hold the good hostage to the perfect in the climate fight.

For all the local environmental disruption it can cause, hydropower has allowed Quebec to virtually decarbonize its electric grid, an astonishing accomplishment that means the province’s residents light their homes and charge their iPhones without contributing to global warming. More than three-quarters of the electricity generated in Massachusetts, in contrast, comes from natural gas.

The Massachusetts law called for an eye-popping 9.5 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, an amount roughly equivalent to what a large nuclear reactor like Seabrook Station in New Hampshire generates in a year. To put that number in perspective, wind turbines in the Commonwealth generated 0.23 terawatt-hours in 2017, according to federal data. The transmission line would make an appreciable dent in the whole region’s carbon emissions, create jobs and tax revenue in Maine, and set the stage for further hydro imports down the road.

Opposition to the plan rests, to some extent, on local concerns about unsightly power lines. Parts of the state that rely on tourism need to feel comfortable with the project; an agreement to bury a key river crossing on the line should help assuage some of those fears. But the most serious criticism is that the plan won’t result in an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Massachusetts might get clean power, critics say, but Hydro-Quebec would fulfill the terms of the deal by diverting power from other customers, who would then use fossil fuels instead.

Diversion would call into question the whole point of the Massachusetts law, which is to combat climate change, and was the thrust of a critical study recently presented to state regulators in Maine.

In its fullest rebuttal yet, the company has disclosed operational details to show how the contract would, indeed, result in new clean generation at its dams. Hydro-Quebec says that it does not currently operate its existing power plants at full capacity: It says it is forced to “spill” water, meaning let water flow downstream without generating electricity from it. The company estimated it spills enough “fuel” in a year to produce about 10.4 terawatts of electricity — more, in other words, than the entire amount of the Massachusetts contract.

“We simply don’t have the transmission lines to export the power that we could potentially produce,” said Serge Abergel, a spokesman for Hydro-Quebec, told the Globe. Spills can be necessary because reservoirs have limited capacity; electricity can’t be generated from the surplus water because it would overload the electrical grid.

To substantiate its contention, the company gave the Globe still photos or videos of water being spilled at seven of its dams, all dated in 2018; copies of written notifications it sent to communities preceding spills this year; and letters it sent to the provincial government outlining plans to spill water.

We don’t have to take the company’s word for it, though. Local media have reported on spills, and Dominique Savoie, a deputy minister in Quebec’s Department of Energy and Natural Resources, confirmed to the Globe that water releases had been carried out.

Meanwhile, the accusation that the utility could buy dirty power to resell to Massachusetts ignores provincial environmental laws. Unlike American states, most Canadian provinces levy carbon fees, and all will do so beginning next year: “If we bought dirty energy, we’d have to pay a carbon tax on that. It makes no business sense,” Abergel said.

Residents of Quebec might wonder why their provincial utility built dams without the capacity to use them fully. But that leftover capacity can be the Commonwealth’s gain — and the climate’s. The state has spent a better part of a decade arguing over if and how to make use of the huge zero-carbon resource next door. Meanwhile, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions have resumed climbing .

The historic concerns about hydropower are understandable. But it’s time to get everyone to yes.

Our View: Hydro-Quebec answers key climate question

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By Portland Press Herald The Editorial Board

Mainers are already paying the price for the world’s slow response to man-made climate change. Studies like the National Climate Assessment report last month make it clear that we are running out of time if we hope to hold off widespread catastrophe.

That makes climate impact the most important question for regulators who are considering any infrastructure proposal. Will it add to the greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere? Will it reduce the level of emissions, postponing or even preventing a disaster?

That’s the lens we hope the Maine Public Utilities Commission will use to evaluate New England Clean Energy Connect, a 145-mile transmission line proposed for western Maine that would deliver Canadian hydropower to the regional grid. Based on the representations made to us recently by Hydro-Quebec, this project has the right answer to both questions. With this line, the company would be able to sell as much carbon-free power into New England as could be produced by two nuclear power plants.

Hydro-Quebec is expanding its capacity, with a new dam coming on line in 2020. But even with existing capacity, the company has “spilled” enough water – or released it without generating any power – to produce 10.4 trillion watts of electricity. To put that in perspective, the company is wasting as much electricity as Maine consumes during a year.

There is nothing simple about a project like this. Even though the transmission line is in Maine, the power has been purchased by the state of Massachusetts to meet its ambitious clean-power goals. Massachusetts ratepayers will foot the entire cost of the project that never touches their state.

The 145-mile transmission line would be within a 300-foot corridor that would be visible in some scenic vistas. The project will create construction jobs and will be subject to local property taxes because it’s on private land.

The line would be built by Avangrid, the parent company of Central Maine Power. They say that it will put downward pressure on Maine electricity prices by creating competition during times of peak demand when natural gas prices spike.

The issue, in all of its complexity, is under consideration by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, with input from the state’s Public Advocate’s Office, which represents the interests of ratepayers.

The project has a number of opponents, including people who live near the corridor, regional power producers and some environmental groups, most notably the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which has accused Hydro-Quebec of “greenwashing.”

The organization alleges that Hydro-Quebec could ship the power purchased by Massachusetts to New England over the new transmission line but make less-clean power available elsewhere, meaning that there would be no net benefit to total greenhouse-gas emissions if those customers filled the gap with fossil fuels.

But Hydro-Quebec’s representatives were very clear: They are currently wasting enough water to fill the Massachusetts contract right now, and their generation capacity is growing. If they are able to make the same representations to the PUC as part of Avangrid’s case, they should put the question of climate impact to rest.

Climate may not be the only issue in this case, but it is the most important. The PUC should give it the weight it demands.

Canadian hydropower supplier says it has plenty of capacity for New England

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Hydro-Quebec officials say opponents of a transmission line through western Maine are wrong when they say the company’s plan to send hydropower to Massachusetts won’t provide abundant clean energy to New England.

The utility’s officials said Thursday that the company has enough capacity to ensure that the electricity sent south is clean and produced with none of the carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

“We have excess (hydropower) energy in Quebec that we can’t get out,” Serge Abergel, director of public affairs for Hydro-Quebec, told the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald. “We’re ‘spilling’ water. We’re unable to get it to our export markets because we’re limited by our transmission lines.”

Hydro-Quebec signed contracts in June with three Massachusetts utility companies to provide hydropower to help Bay Staters reach their clean energy goals. Central to that plan is the construction of a 145-mile transmission corridor through Maine to deliver that hydropower to Massachusetts markets. Central Maine Power and its parent company, Avangrid, have been tapped to build that line at a cost of nearly $1 billion. The line’s path through some of the most pristine forests of Maine has sparked opposition, while supporters welcome the jobs and taxes the project would deliver.

Abergel said Hydro-Quebec is bringing 13 more hydroelectric facilities on line that have been developed over the past 15 years, and so far has dams on only 75 of the province’s 4,500 rivers. He also said that many of Hydro-Quebec’s reservoirs are near capacity and they act as a sort of natural “battery” to call upon when electricity is needed. That untapped capacity to deliver more hydropower to New England is a major argument in favor of building a transmission line through Maine, he said.

But Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, disputed Abergel’s claims. He’s concerned that Hydro-Quebec could engage in a practice called greenwashing, in which a utility buys power from highly polluting generators such as coal plants when that electricity is cheap, then uses it to fulfill their own contracts rather than using their own clean hydropower. That would negate the environmental advantages of transmitting hydropower to Massachusetts.

Voorhees says Hydro-Quebec has “the means and financial incentive” to buy cheap electricity from coal, oil or natural gas electric plants and send it south instead of electricity produced by the company’s dams and hydroelectric plants in Quebec. He also said that Hydro-Quebec has short-term electric supply contracts in New York that could be satisfied with less-clean electricity once the Maine transmission line opens up.

WAITING FOR PERMISSION

Abergel was joined in the meeting with the Press Herald by another Hydro-Quebec official and two from Avangrid. Together, they said they worry that the clean power message has gotten lost in the debate over the transmission line.

That debate is entering its final stages. The Maine Public Utilities Commission has to issue a key permit for the project to go forward.

It has already convened hearings, and will hold more in January to give supporters and opponents time to submit final briefs. A decision by the commission on whether to allow the line to be built is expected in March.

Many of the towns and cities along the route of the line have endorsed it, but opposition has stepped up in recent weeks. Opponents have planned demonstrations, and in Somerset County, some residents are urging the county commission to withdraw its support for the line. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has rescinded its endorsement, although it hasn’t decided whether to oppose the project.

OFFICIALS PREDICT LOWER PRICES

Stephen C. Molodetz, a vice president of HQ-US, a subsidiary of Hydro-Quebec, said the transmission line would help Maine electricity customers, even though the line would go directly to Massachusetts. That lack of a Maine tie-in has been another argument that opponents have used against the transmission line plan.

Molodetz said the electricity coming in from Canada would reduce demand on other generators in New England because consumers are served by a regional grid. That should lead to lower prices, he said, particularly during peak demand periods, such as cold snaps in the winter or heat waves in the summer.

“Massachusetts will foot the bill,” Molodetz said of the transmission line, and the more expensive, and often more-polluting, plants won’t need to come online as often because of the supply of Canadian electricity flowing south.

That thought was echoed by John H. Carroll, director of corporate communications for Avangrid, who pointed out that the transmission line would remain even after the contract between Massachusetts and Hydro-Quebec ends in 20 years.

“This is a billion-dollar investment in our state’s infrastructure that Massachusetts is paying for,” he said.

CMP is expected to earn $60 million a year from building the transmission line over the life of the contract. In addition, Maine ratepayers are expected to save $40 million a year because of lower wholesale electric costs in New England, according to CMP estimates. Communities along the route of the transmission line would share in $18 million in property taxes, and nearly 1,700 direct and indirect jobs would be created during construction, the company has said.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

Letter to the editor: Power project will bring many jobs, aid towns

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Very few construction jobs in the state of Maine bring the promise of thousands of jobs with them. The New England Clean Energy Connect project is the exception to the rule.

This project promises to bring 1,700 jobs a year to our state during construction and 3,500 at peak construction. And these aren’t minimum-wage jobs. These jobs will pay good money. The work will also be done in a section of our state whose economy could definitely use a shot in the arm – western Maine.

Those jobs will then in turn stimulate the economy in a number of the small Maine towns along the project’s corridor. The workers will at some point want to eat breakfast or lunch or grab a drink. Small businesses along the NECEC corridor will only benefit in the long run from people wanting to spend money in their towns.

I strongly urge the Maine Public Utilities Commission to support this project. It can only help our state, both in the short term and for many years to come.

Nate Boutin

Yarmouth

CMP power line supporters make their case to Somerset County commissioners

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SKOWHEGAN — Central Maine Power Co. rolled out the big guns Wednesday for Somerset County commissioners, who heard support for the company’s proposed 145-mile-long power line through Maine connecting hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.

From Peter Vigue, president of Cianbro Corp., to outdoor recreation business owners and a local selectman who read a letter from Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills, brother of Gov.-elect Janet Mills, more than a dozen people spoke of the benefits of the New England Clean Energy Connect.

It was all about clean air, jobs, property tax benefits and a stable, reliable supply of electrical power for Maine and New England without reliance on natural gas, oil or wind power.

“Those that know me know I am focused on the future of this state,” said Vigue, whose company employs 1,500 people, 277 of them from Somerset County. “Oil-fired and nuclear plants are going off line. We have to ask ourselves what’s next.”

Larry Carrier, a business owner in Jackman, and Russell Walters, president of Northern Outdoors in West Forks, said they support the project for the promise of permanent trails along the corridor for snowmobiling, biking and hiking.

CMP says the $1 billion project would reduce the prices that Maine ratepayers pay for electricity by $40 million a year for the next 20 years. They claim the project would bring cleaner air, with Maine’s carbon emissions reduced by nearly 265,000 metric tons of CO2 annually, the equivalent of removing 57,000 cars from Maine roads and highways.

The project would reduce air emissions in New England by 3 million metric tons annually, the company contends. CMP also claims that the project would bring 1,700 construction jobs to northern Maine for the next four years, with a peak of 3,500 jobs during construction.

The transmission line would provide 1,200 megawatts to power roughly 1 million homes in Massachusetts. While its $950 million budget would be funded by Massachusetts electricity customers, the 145-mile-long infrastructure — plus updates to an existing 50-mile line — would run through 38 communities in Somerset, Franklin and Androscoggin counties.

There also is a significant piece of the project that runs through Windsor, Whitefield, Alna, Woolwich and Wiscasset, needing a new 345kV transmission line that will follow an existing corridor.

Project opponents, a 4,000-member group called Say No to NECEC, describe the line “as wide as the New Jersey Turnpike,” crossing under or over the Kennebec River Gorge, across the Appalachian Trail, 263 wetlands, 115 streams, 12 inland waterfowl and wading bird habitat areas, as well as brook trout streams and deer wintering yards.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine has come out in opposition to the project, noting that the transmission line through Maine would not reduce carbon pollution and therefore would have no benefit for climate change. Instead, the line would redirect existing generation and enable Hydro-Québec to profit from “green-washing” dirty, fossil-fuel power.

Somerset County commissioners in September 2017 issued a resolution strongly opposing additional wind turbines in the county or the Moosehead Lake region, saying industrial wind turbines and transmission lines would spoil the “world class beauty” of the region forever. Last January, commissioners approved the NECEC project, a point opponents of the project say was contradictory to their previous vote.

Richard McDonald, of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, the group opposing industrial wind development in the greater Moosehead region, says the NECEC project increases the threat of additional industrial wind development. He said his group is working against the projects to protect the region’s fragile tourism economy and iconic landscapes.

But John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, told county commissioners Wednesday that wind is not on the table, which is why wind advocates oppose the NECEC. Lower energy prices as a result of the project will make wind less profitable and therefore less likely, he said.

Even Chris O’Neil, of Friends of Maine Mountains, a wind opposition group, said if the proposed corridor isn’t used for the CMP project, the wind companies probably will try to use it.

Bob Meyers, of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said his membership doesn’t care about transmission towers if the riding is good.

“And the riding is good,” he said of Somerset County trails.

Joe Christopher, owner of Three Rivers Whitewater in West Forks, said he is not opposed to the CMP project.

“I support the project wholeheartedly,” he told Somerset County commissioners.

Paul Frederic, a Starks selectman whose family has worked the land there since 1795, read a letter of support for the project from Peter Mills. Frederic said Somerset County is one of the poorest in Maine and towns along the corridor would benefit immensely from the added tax base provided by the infusion of cash for services and schools.

He said the broadband internet access that would come with the transmission lines also would be a boost to children who can not even do their homework now because of bad internet connections.

“We like Massachusetts money dollar by dollar,” he said, referring to the fact that Mainers will not pay a penny for the corridor. “But we really like it a billion dollars at a time.”

Newell Graf, of Skowhegan, the commission chairman, said the board already had heard from opponents of the project, so they were not invited to speak Wednesday during the regular session. Some opponents did speak at the end of the meeting, however.

Graf said the panel will make its decision on the project at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 19.

The project still needs several state and municipal permits as well as approval from the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Aviation Administration before construction can begin.

CMP has estimated the permitting process will be complete by 2019 and construction, if the project is approved, completed by 2022.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

dharlow@centralmaine.com

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

Power line plan has many benefits

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When I heard about the New England Clean Energy Connect project, I honestly thought it was too good to be true. But the more I’ve looked into it, the more I’m convinced this project needs to become a reality.

The economic opportunities presented by NECEC are nothing short of remarkable. I keep hearing from opponents of this project that there’s no benefit to Mainers and that Massachusetts only will reap its rewards. I find that statement ridiculous.

This project will pump significant hydropower into Maine and New England. When this amount of renewable energy is brought into the grid, the effects are obvious — bills go down for Maine ratepayers. It’s the basic law of supply of demand. The more options we have as far as choosing how we power our homes, the better. But the part of this project that makes it so appealing is that Mainers don’t have to pay a single cent of it. Not a penny. Massachusetts is footing the entire bill. How can we pass up a chance like this?

But the economic benefits don’t stop there. There is also a significant amount of property tax revenue that will help towns along the corridor of the project. This revenue will be used to fund other projects towns have been efforting for years. They simply don’t have the money to get them done now. NECEC will allow them to spend this added revenue however they see fit.

I strongly encourage all Mainers to get behind NECEC. It will ensure clean energy in our state and invest in our economy for years to come.

Rep. Tim Theriault

Emissions battle ensnares link to Canadian hydropower

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by Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter 
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Janet Mills campaigned as a climate champion. Maine's governor-elect pledged to slash emissions 80 percent by 2030, bolster renewables and revive state climate action after eight years under Paul LePage, the climate-denying Republican governor who will depart Augusta in January.

But perhaps the biggest climate test facing Maine's new Democratic governor is an issue seldom mentioned on the campaign trail: the fate of Central Maine Power Co.'s proposed $950 million transmission line. The project would connect hydropower generated by Hydro-Québec, the provincial utility, with energy-hungry Massachusetts.

Advocates say the project is essential to New England's climate goals, injecting a reliable source of low-carbon energy into the regional grid at a time when nuclear plants are closing.

Critics worry that the project would mar Maine's ecologically sensitive northern woods, push regional power generators from the market and hamper new renewable projects. They also question its climate credentials. Although it may hold down emissions in New England, they contend it could prompt emissions to spike elsewhere.

The power line was a fleeting issue in the gubernatorial campaign this fall. All the candidates expressed varying degrees of skepticism and questioned its benefit to the state. But Mills has gone a step further since defeating Republican Shawn Moody and independent Teresea Hayes earlier this month, raising alarm about the project's potential environmental impacts.

In a statement to E&E News, the governor-elect said she was worried that the project "would potentially clear a football field wide swath through 145 miles of pristine wilderness in western Maine" and expressed concern about its impact on wildlife.

The dynamic illustrates the difficult trade-offs facing climate hawks in New England, where state climate goals and energy policy are intertwined by a common wholesale electricity market.

The region boasts some of the most ambitious climate goals in the country. Every New England state has pledged to reduce carbon emissions at least 80 percent by midcentury.

New Englanders can claim some progress toward their goals. Carbon emissions associated with regional electricity generation were down by nearly a third between 2001 and 2016, according to ISO New England, the regional grid operator.

But serious challenges loom on the horizon. Emission reductions in large part have been driven by coal plant retirements, and there are few of those remaining. After 2019, two small plants in New Hampshire will be all that remains of coal power in New England (Climatewire, May 30, 2017).

Natural gas now accounts for about half of the region's power generation. Limited pipeline capacity means power plant operators can be squeezed on cold days, when pipelines are also used to meet the region's heating needs.

Then there are New England's nuclear plants, long a large source of zero-emitting energy. Emissions briefly spiked in 2015 after Vermont Yankee shut down its nuclear reactor along the Connecticut River. Next up is the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station south of Boston, which switches offline for good in 2019.

Hydropower was intended to fill the void left by the closing nuclear facilities and serve as a foundation to complement the region's ambitious plans to build out offshore wind.

The push has been led by Massachusetts. Lawmakers in New England's largest state passed a bill in 2016 requiring Bay State utilities to contract for 1.2 gigawatts of hydroelectricity, enough to power 1.2 million homes.

"With such a large purchase, there is a significant benefit in New England because you're displacing gas-fired generation," said John Dalton, an analyst at Power Advisory LLC, a Massachusetts-based consultancy. The project, he added, represents a major "contribution to achieving Massachusetts' emission reduction goals."

Not everyone sees it that way. New Hampshire regulators rejected an initial plan to route a transmission line from Quebec through the Granite State. That prompted Massachusetts regulators to set their sights on Maine, where Central Maine Power has proposed building a 145-mile line capable of annually delivering 9.5 terawatt-hours of power from Hydro-Québec to Massachusetts.

LePage enthusiastically endorsed the project, as part of his bid to bring more Canadian hydro into the state and lower electricity costs. But it now faces mounting opposition.

'Is this a good deal or not?'

Natural gas interests argue Hydro-Québec's contract with Massachusetts will push them out of New England's power market, leaving the region without a power source needed to keep the lights on. Conservationists have raised concerns about the proposal to cut 53 miles of new transmission corridor through the Maine woods, threatening native brook trout populations and wintering grounds for deer. The remainder of the project would be routed through existing transmission corridors.

And some environmental groups have charged the project's proponents with greenwashing. A study commissioned by the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club of Maine concluded that the route proposed by Central Maine Power would give Hydro-Québec an incentive to sell hydropower to Massachusetts at a high price and buy fossil energy from neighboring markets at a low price. That would offset the benefit of providing low-carbon electricity to New England and might even lead to an increase in emissions in some cases, the report found.

"Let's not take the crummy impacts of infrastructure to get no climate benefit," said Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy program director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

He welcomed Mills' skepticism, saying the governor-elect "is asking the right question, which is what's in it for Maine? Is this a good deal or not? That implies trade-offs. If you start to do that balancing, it starts to fail pretty quickly."

Central Maine Power and Hydro-Québec dismiss such charges. They note that the project is crossing timberland that is hardly a pristine wilderness devoid of human disruption. And they reject arguments that the project would increase carbon emissions.

Quebec is part of California's cap-and-trade program, and nearly all of Hydro-Québec's power generation comes from hydro. In 2017, the provincial utility reported that fossil fuel imports accounted for 0.04 percent of its power supply.

"The 24/7 design of the energy delivery contract for the NECEC line ensures that GHG emissions in New England will be reduced significantly, particularly when emissions are highest during peak periods," said Lynn St-Laurent, a spokeswoman for the utility, referring to the project's official name, the New England Clean Energy Connect.

Energy analysts also questioned claims that the project would result in a net emissions increase. Neighboring Ontario and New Brunswick are hydro- and nuclear-heavy power systems, making them unlikely sources for fossil fuel imports. What fossil fuel generation remains would be subject to Canada's new carbon tax and a mandate to close all coal-fired facilities by 2030.

New York, meanwhile, is a net importer of hydropower from Quebec, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has announced plans to close his state's few remaining coal plants.

Jesse Jenkins, a power-sector researcher at Harvard University, said it is possible that the arrangement could prompt Hydro-Québec to buy fossil generation at select points during the year. But it is nearly impossible to design a state-level climate program without any emissions leakage, he said.

The project does meet a critical need for New England, Jenkins said. At a time when nuclear plants are closing and opportunities for carbon capture or biomass appear limited, hydro offers the region a reliable source of low-carbon energy that can be used as a foundation to support its build-out of renewables.

"There are not a lot of options for New England, and hydro from Quebec is one of them," he said. "We do need to get serious about a broader regional conversation about what trade-offs we are willing to make. It may not be this particular project, but we have to be willing to make trade-offs. We can't say no to every individual project one by one."

Partnerships are critical

Mills, now the state's attorney general, enters the picture against that backdrop. The project was initially expected to receive a vote before the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by the end of the year, but that has been pushed back until March.

The governor does not have direct oversight over the project but does appoint commissioners to the PUC, which will have the final say. The current chairman's term expires in March.

Mills has fashioned herself as a climate advocate. She campaigned on a pledge to encourage net metering — the practice of paying residential solar owners for surplus energy sent back to the grid — and boosting onshore and offshore wind. And she has paid close attention to energy conservation efforts, saying she wants to offer further incentives for heat pumps and pellet stoves for residential heating that reduce dependence on fuel oil.

But even if Mills succeeds in greening Maine's economy, she faces the stark reality that hers is a relatively small state. Carbon emissions from Massachusetts' power sector alone (10.7 million tons) were roughly two-thirds of Maine's total energy-related emissions (16.6 million tons) in 2016, according to federal figures.

That means Mills' greatest climate impact likely hinges on her ability to work with neighboring states. After eight years under LePage, who eschewed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program encompassing nine Northeastern states' power sectors, Mills signaled she is willing to do that.

"I am absolutely committed to Maine partnering with our fellow New England states to combat climate change, and, as governor, I will pursue policies to that end," she said in response to questions from E&E News.

She added a cautionary note on the proposed transmission line.

"I would want to see substantial mitigation of this environmental impact, as well as concrete, long-term benefits to Maine ratepayers and energy consumers before putting the welcome mat out for this project," Mills said.

Her climate legacy may ultimately depend on what trade-offs she's willing to make.

Jay board continues backing clean energy project

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By Donna M. Perry, Staff Writer

JAY — Selectpersons voted 4-1  Monday to continue to support Central Maine Power Co.’s proposed electricity transmission corridor from Quebec through Maine to Massachusetts.

The move denied petitions to stop the corridor presented to the board by resident Susan Theberge. The petitions have a total of 405 signatures of Jay residents. Of that number, 262 were collected at the polls on Election Day.

Theberge said she was at Monday’s meeting to ask the board to rescind support for the 145-mile corridor and to become intervenors in the New England Clean Energy Connect power project.

A total of 2,148 people voted Nov. 6, Deputy Town Clerk Raeleen York said when asked by a selectperson.

An attempt by Selectperson Gary McGrane to table action on a decision on the petition until the board could review the information failed 3-2 with Chairman Terry Bergeron joining McGrane on the vote to table. Those opposed to tabling action were Vice Chairman Tim DeMillo and Judy Diaz and Tom Goding.

Bergeron said he believed seven miles of transmission line would come down through Jay and the estimated valuation is over $21 million.

At a prior meeting, Bergeron said Jay is projected to receive more than $460,000 in annual taxes.

CMP representative John Carroll said New England is on the cusp of building its next generation of energy supply. 

He touted the benefit of the project, including clean energy, jobs and energy cost savings while others in the audience voiced concerns about herbicide, tourism, harm to the north Maine woods, and jobs most likely being union positions which could cut Maine residents out.

Maine Compass: CMP transmission line part of fight for climate

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As a long-term member and past board member of the Natural Resource Council of Maine, I have tremendous respect for the decades of work they have done and continue to do to protect Maine’s environment. But I think their opposition to the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect as described in the recent column by Dylan Vorhees, is a serious strategic mistake from a climate perspective (“CMP’s history breeds skepticism on clean energy initiatives,” Nov. 17).

While I agree with NRCM’s frustration with Central Maine Power’s pas opposition to solar net metering and energy efficiency, this is a Massachusetts-initiated plan to meet the state’s clean energy goals. While many ask “What’s in it for Maine?”, reducing greenhouse gases is a global necessity unrelated to state boundaries. The fact that CMP would profit from the power line that would connect HydroQuebec and Massachusetts and the New England Electric Grid is a way to demonize CMP and undermine the project, but it is absolutely irrelevant in the context of the looming climate crisis.

In fact, every manufacturer or installer of clean energy resources, including wind and solar, will need to be very profitable to sustain and expand their essential work while researching technological improvements. These are investor-owned or privately held companies. Ironically, the same people who deride CMP for their profit motives never demonize the natural gas industry and the owners of aging fossil fuel power plants, both threatened with huge financial losses if the project is approved. The fossil fuel interests have for years been vocal opponents of this project, which is very telling.

The claim made by Voorhees that the proposed transmission line project “will do nothing to reduce climate-disrupting pollution” is unsupported by any available facts. Information provided by HydroQuebec shows that in addition to current reservoir reserves behind their dams, the 2020 opening of new generating facilities and the ongoing turbine upgrades are more than enough to meet the 1090 megawatt hours set forth in the contract with Massachusetts. Since HydroQuebec is government owned and active in international climate initiatives, I see no reason to distrust their numbers. Independent analysts hired by the Maine Public Utilities Commission testified that the transmission line would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3 million metric tons each year, or the annual equivalent of tailpipe emissions created by 660,000 cars. When opponents claim that the project will have no climate benefit, it suggests that Massachusetts is just trying to meet their law defining clean energy goals but that they are just stupid or really don’t care about climate change.

Voorhees references the need to meet Maine’s current goal to reduce hydrocarbon emissions to 75 percent to 80 percent below 2003 levels by 2050, a good goal that NRCM helped develop. But the recent and frightening U.N. climate report suggests that globally we must reduce emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050 to avoid climate chaos.

I find it hard to believe that we can meet either of these emission reduction goals without imported hydropower and by just adding more solar panels, inoffensive wind turbines, and offshore wind that will require above-ground power lines when underwater cables reach the shore. Furthermore, hydropower is a critical resource as backup to the significant seasonal and daily variability of wind and solar, and that backup role is now provided by fossil fuel plants. Meeting essential emission reduction goals requires the electrification of all forms of transportation and the conversion of fossil fuel heating of houses and other buildings to heat pumps. This requires a huge amount of all sources of clean electricity including that provided by Canadian hydropower.

We urgently need a quantifiable and aggressive decarbonization plan and any such a plan will no doubt create some local opposition. Our children and grandchildren will be far more deeply offended if we don’t implement such a plan very soon. NRCM, HydroQuebec, Massachusetts, CMP and others need to cooperate to implement the project in a way that minimizes local environment impact and maximizes the far more important reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. There is no time to waste.

Tony Marple is retired after a career in health care administration and serves on the Whitefield Select Board.

CMP’s powerline would help climate

Read Letter to the Editor here.

With devastating wildfires in California, an ever-evolving climate, and unstable oil costs, Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect is something we should all be embracing as one of many solutions to a much larger problem.

CMP has done painstaking research to pinpoint a route for this plan that will ensure minimal to no impact to our environment. The route from Quebec to Lewiston will go through two main areas. The first is an existing corridor that CMP already owns. The second is forests that have been already harvested and used by our state’s lumber industry. Virtually no untouched land will be affected by NECEC. CMP has now also agreed to go underground instead of over the Kennebec Gorge. That means our pristine views of our state and communities will continue to shine through.

Our time for embracing alternate energy is running out. According to a recent report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have only a dozen years to address this problem before things get even more out of hand. If Massachusetts and the rest of New England are using less oil and more hydropower, that will translate into healthier air for all of us to breathe and add greater relief to our wallets at the same time.

It’s time we stop looking back at how we have traditionally addressed our energy needs and start moving forward to more progressive and innovative methods. CMP’s Clean Energy Connect will provide badly needed clean energy to Maine and New England, providing both a healthier source for energy, as well as more savings for our pocketbooks.

Michael Hall

Augusta

Letter to the Editor: NECEC will lower electric costs

Read Letter to the Editor here.

The New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) will lower whole sale electric costs $40 million a year for 20 years. Do the math, that is a lot of savings, which is why the companies selling electricity into the wholesale market are fighting the project.

Retirees like myself pay close attention to electric costs. Maine has the oldest population in the United States, so this matters to a lot of people. We retirees also have grandchildren, many of whom like mine have had to move out of state for good jobs and want to return. Mbaine’s economy stands to benefit from new jobs the NECEC will deliver-3500 in the peak year-as well as cleaner air, but we shouldn’t overlook savings. Lower energy costs will really help Maine.

Walter Anderson
North Yarmouth, ME

Rep. Harvell: Critic misrepresents benefits of proposed CMP project

Read SPECIAL TO THE PRESS HERALD here

Bringing Canadian power to New England would bring good jobs to Maine and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the region.

BY LANCE HARVELL

A recent commentary by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, was another attempt to win votes in November by misrepresenting the benefits of Central Maine Power’s proposal to bring new Canadian hydropower into the New England market. While it may be good politics for Berry to run on his opposition to the project, it would be bad for Maine if CMP’s plan falls victim to his narrow aims.

CMP’s New England Clean Energy Connect project is an opportunity for the state of Maine. The economic and environmental benefits are simply too good to pass up.

Let’s start with the economic impact. A recent study by Maine’s Department of Labor predicts a net gain of fewer than 100 jobs between 2016 and 2026. Do the math. That’s 10 jobs a year for 10 years, and jobs in construction are actually projected to decline!

NECEC will support an estimated average of 1,700 jobs per year over the next five years. When the NECEC construction workforce is at its peak, the project will support 3,500 jobs. Rep. Berry dismisses these as “temporary jobs.” That’s a slap in the face to anyone with a career in the building trades, especially here in western Maine where it’s tough enough to make a living.

But the economic benefits don’t stop there. Maine communities along the route of NECEC will benefit from $18 million in tax revenues annually. In many of these towns, even small increases in the property-tax rate are hotly debated, but NECEC could reduce the tax rate by double digits in many communities. How that windfall is used is then left up to the towns to decide. Maybe a new fire station or police station is a priority. Does an elementary school need renovation? At least we would have the choice, thanks to NECEC.

According to an analysis by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine, the impacts of jobs and taxes, coupled with the potential for lower energy costs, could add nearly $1 billion to Maine’s economy within the next 10 years. That’s “billion” – with a “B”! We have good laws in place to make sure a project like NECEC won’t harm our communities or natural resources, so we shouldn’t turn our backs on real progress when an opportunity like this comes along.

NECEC isn’t just about the economy, it’s real progress for our environment, too. Rep. Berry says he sees “no clear … climate benefit to Maine people.” I respectfully disagree. We have always valued hydropower as a clean energy resource, and Hydro-Québec has enough power to supply New England and its other markets in Canada and the U.S. Tapping into their clean power supplies will reduce carbon emissions linked to our electricity use by nearly 265,000 metric tons annually. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 56,000 cars off the road every year for the next 20 years! That seems like a clear climate benefit to me.

Finally, Rep. Berry raises questions about whether CMP is capable of building a project like NECEC. Where was he from 2010 to 2015? CMP built a $1.4 billion project to strengthen Maine’s grid that went right through his hometown. That was a far larger, more complex undertaking, and CMP brought it in on time and under budget. No other utility in New England could match that achievement.

Maine should not turn its back on an almost $1 billion investment in our infrastructure that will bring jobs, lower property taxes, lower energy costs and cleaner air at no cost to Maine consumers. It’s an investment that could deliver clean energy for 60 or more years, and still it’s not good enough for people like Rep. Berry. Make your own minds up, but at least stick to the facts. I support NECEC because it’s good for Maine.

CMP Says It Will Tunnel Under Kennebec River Gorge For Proposed Transmission Project

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By Fred Bever

Central Maine Power (CMP) is backing off its proposal to string high-voltage transmission lines over the scenic Kennebec River Gorge. CMP now says that it wants to build a tunnel under the gorge, as part of its $950 million project to bring hydro-electricity from Canada to Massachusetts.

A lot of the opposition to CMP's plan has emanated from towns around the gorge — Caratunk, the Forks, West Forks, Alna — where rafting and other nature-based tourism enterprises are a dominant economic force. At the same time, state environmental regulators have also been peppering CMP with skeptical questions about the necessity of the river-crossing and have called for a more thorough analysis of alternatives.

Now CMP is abandoning the aerial solution and going underground.

John Carroll is a CMP spokesperson.

"We've had a lot of good feedback with regulators back and forth over a variety of issues around the project, and this seems to be the one that is raising the most concerns, and we're trying to address those,” says Carroll.

Opponents are casting the decision as a sign that CMP knows the project is in trouble.

"This gambit with the Gorge, I see it as sort of a desperate move,” says Dylan Voorhees, the energy programs director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The council is part of a coalition of environmental groups, competing electricity generators, and project neighbors that have joined forces in recent months. Voorhees and others say that while taking the transmission line under the river is likely better than going above, the entire project, which would cut 53 miles of new corridor through western Maine forests, should still be shelved.

"I think this is a reaction to overwhelming concern about the impact this project would have on the Kennebec River, which is one of a whole bunch of concerns that people would have about the line,” Voorhees says.

If approved by environmental regulators, the underground plan would cut the value of a mitigation deal CMP struck with some area stakeholders — rafters, trail advocates and landowners. The plan could have provided some $22 million for economic development and trail access in the area. But the "memorandum of understanding" between those parties allows that to be reduced to around $5 million in the event that transmission lines do not go overhead.

Larry Warren is the founder of the Maine Huts and Trails system, and one of the group that negotiated that MOU. He says the partnership with CMP will still be a good thing for the region's outdoors economy.

"I'm optimistic,” Warren says. “We communicated what we think are some of the obvious opportunities for expanding economic development potential of the region, through trails."

Carroll notes that tunneling under the river was always one of CMP's contingency plans. The estimated $37 million cost, he adds, falls within the budget outlined by CMP when it won the bid for Massachusetts' clean energy request for proposals.

"It's a different technology, obviously, than we use on a regular basis,” Carroll says. “But it's not untried or untested or unfamiliar. But it's actually used on a fairly regular basis for things like pipelines. So it's different, it will be interesting to watch and be part of, but it's easily understood and can be done properly."

And within the original timeline, he says, which calls for project completion in 2022. The state's Public Utilities Commission, which is considering whether the project's benefits outweigh negative effects on the state, could issue a decision in late December. Environmental regulators, meanwhile, have yet to set public hearings on the land use permit CMP needs.

In concession to critics, CMP says it would run power line under scenic Kennebec Gorge

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By Peter Maguire

Central Maine Power wants to bury the portion of its planned electrical transmission line from Quebec that crosses the scenic Kennebec River Gorge, a concession to environmentalists and local activists opposed to the project.

The company on Thursday notified regulators that it intends to drill under the river, in northern Somerset County, instead of crossing the gorge with elevated electrical lines.

In a prepared statement, CMP CEO Doug Herling said burying the line has always been under consideration.

“We believe this change may also encourage stronger support from those who appreciate the project’s benefits, but want to preserve the commercial and aesthetic value of the river as well,” Herling said.

Avoiding an aerial crossing of the river addresses the concerns of Maine’s environmental regulators, local communities and other stakeholders, CMP said. The company says it plans to use horizontal directional drilling to “preserve the scenic and recreational value” of the gorge.

In June, CMP said burying the line would add $37 million to the $950 million project. It’s unclear what kind of regulatory approvals would be needed to bury the line under the riverbed.

CMP planned to string transmission lines 200 feet above the gorge, a 10-mile stretch of granite canyon popular as a backcountry, white-water rafting destination. The gorge has been a flashpoint in the fight to stop CMP’s transmission line, with opponents arguing that the development will mar an otherwise untouched wilderness.

The company’s new approach didn’t mollify vocal opponents of the project who worry the transmission line will destroy wildlife habitat and scenic vistas.

“The majority of the people are opposing this because of what it will do to the western mountains, not what it will do to the gorge,” said Peter Dostie, a former white-water rafter and owner of a lodge in West Forks. “We have no compromise.”

Dostie thinks CMP’s announcement signals the company is “backpedaling” because it is worried it may not get state approval for the project.

“I don’t think this is going to happen, I think they are on the run and the whole thing is going to be abandoned,” he said.

Tania Merette, who sells real estate in the Moose River valley near the proposed corridor, said burying lines made the project “a little less heinous,” but would still ruin the area’s pristine wilderness.

“It doesn’t change my opinion at all,” Merette said. “I think they are throwing us a little bone and hoping we are going to chase it.”

Pete Dostie rows on the Kennebec River on June 13 within an area that Avangrid, the parent company of Central Maine Power Co., has identified for its high-voltage transmission line. Dostie, a former river guide who has rafted through the Kennebec Gorge for four decades, opposes the project. “This is one of the last pure river gorges in the Northeast,” he says. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, called CMP’s announcement “a desperate gambit to salvage its controversial power line proposal.”

“This project is carefully designed to maximize profits for CMP and Hydro-Quebec, but it remains a bad deal for Maine. Burying a very short segment of the line under the Kennebec Gorge simply brings more attention to the project’s many flaws, which collectively should be grounds for its rejection by the state agencies responsible for reviewing it,” Voorhees said in a written statement.

UNCERTAINTY AHEAD

If CMP does put the proposed line under the Kennebec River, a collection of area rafting companies and businesses could see a drastic reduction in the financial incentive CMP offered in exchange for the group’s support for the project.

In June, the company signed an agreement with a planned nonprofit called Western Mountains and Rivers Corp. to invest $22 million into nature tourism and conservation if its transmission line were strung over the gorge. But if CMP installs the line under the gorge, or in a different location, Western Mountains and Rivers will get between $5 million but not more than $10 million, according to the agreement.

Members of the Western Mountains and Rivers board of directors did not respond to interview requests Thursday.

Maine’s three-member Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote in late December on whether to issue a permit for the project. At least 100 people turned out to a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday, most to express their opposition to the proposal.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing construction permit applications for the project filed by CMP.

The 145-mile electrical line would bring power produced by hydroelectric dams in Quebec to Massachusetts through Western Maine. Massachusetts electric utilities in June signed an agreement with Avangrid, CMP’s parent company, to build a nearly $1 billion high-voltage transmission line called the New England Clean Power Connection. The project is expected to bring 1,200 megawatts to the Bay State, enough to power roughly 1 million homes.

CMP says the line is expected to create 1,700 temporary construction jobs and contribute $18 million a year in new tax revenue. The company also estimated that Maine ratepayers could save around $40 million a year because of lower wholesale electricity costs in New England because of the new transmission line.

The project has been opposed by a collection of environmental groups that say it will destroy a wilderness and interrupt the Appalachian Trail without reducing carbon emissions. Construction is also opposed by companies that own natural gas power plants in Maine and are worried about competition from imported Canadian hydropower.

The proposal has received support from business and organized labor for the jobs and tax revenue it is projected to create.

Jason Levesque, the mayor of Auburn, supports the plan because of the clean power he believes it will bring to New England. Amending the construction plan shows CMP is “willing to address concerns as they come up,” Levesque said.

“I am looking forward to seeing what CMP will do to make all parties as happy as possible,” he added. “Hopefully this gets done, and the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.”

Coalition Of Business And Labor Groups Comes Out In Support Of The CMP Transmission Project

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By ROBBIE FEINBERG 

A coalition of business and labor groups has come out in support of a controversial proposed 145-mile transmission line through Western Maine.

The group, calling itself Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs, includes the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, labor unions and the construction firm Cianbro. The group is receiving funding from the Maine Chamber of Commerce. The proposed line would deliver electricity from a Hydro Quebec dam system through Maine to customers in Canada.

Maine Chamber President Dana Connors says that the project would offer substantial benefits, including thousands of jobs through 2022 in Western Maine and increased broadband access.

"I believe this project represents an historic alignment of interest," Connors says. "And with it, creates an historic alignment of opportunity and benefit for our state."

However, several lawmakers, conservation organizations and recreation groups have come out against the project, saying that it could endanger forest ecosystems and threaten the state's natural tourism economy, with a still-unclear effect on greenhouse gas emissions. Lawmakers also worry the project could hurt Maine's solar and wind industries.

But the new coalition's director, Ben Dudley, says the CMP project would offer thousands of jobs to Maine residents over the next few years while still promoting renewable hydro-power.

"We've got to move," Dudley says. "There's room for solar. There's room for other renewables. And we've got to promote those, as well. That's not a reason not to do this project."

The state's Public Utilities Commission will hold its final public hearing on the transmission line Wednesday evening in Hallowell.

On eve of hearing, business and labor groups say they back CMP power line through western Maine

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BY ANDREW RICE AND TUX TURKEL SUN JOURNAL AND PORTLAND PRESS HERALD

LEWISTON — A group formed by business and labor leaders announced its support Tuesday for the transmission line proposal by Central Maine Power Co. that has drawn opposition from hundreds of residents and will go before state regulators for a final public hearing on Wednesday.

Known as New England Clean Energy Connect, the project would bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts by stringing a new 145-mile transmission line through western Maine to a converter station in Lewiston. More than 400 comments have been submitted to regulators, who are scheduled to hold a public hearing on the project Wednesday. The volume is not a record – the University of Maine’s Aqua Ventus wind power project drew more than 600 comments – but is indicative of the broad interest generated by CMP’s plan.

Groups for and against the NECEC project have been using rallies, reports and endorsements to sway the three members of the Public Utilities Commission, who are scheduled to vote in late December on whether to issue a key permit.

A number of business and labor representatives assembled for a news conference Tuesday morning on Lincoln Street, where the “Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs” campaign kicked off. Ben Dudley, director of Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs, said the project will make Maine “a leader in the race against the catastrophic effects of climate change” by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 265,000 metric tons annually.

Others, such as representatives from the Associated General Contractors of Maine, E.S. Boulos and Cianbro, argued it will produce 3,500 new jobs during peak construction.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said thousands of good-paying jobs would be created in “a section of our state that badly needs them, western Maine.”

The pro-power line rally took place on the eve the public hearing, set for 5 p.m. Wednesday at the PUC offices in Hallowell.

To build the project, CMP and its parent company, Avangrid, need to win a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, which means they have to convince the commissioners that there’s a need for this new transmission line. To define “need,” the commission will consider factors that include financial harm to customers, economic impact, reliability and the specific route. These and other issues are being debated in complex, technical exchanges by lawyers and utility experts that so far have generated 391 separate filings in the case.

But the PUC also takes into account how customers feel. Wednesday’s public witness hearing invites members of the public to testify, and it allows all sworn testimony to become evidence in the case.

So far, public opposition has outweighed support.

At a first round of hearings in September in The Forks and Farmington, grass-roots organizers who live near the route and statewide environmental activists orchestrated a show of force. The overriding theme was that the project’s impact on the environment, natural resources and tourism outweighed promises of job creation and economic benefits.

At the PUC, the vast majority of the 411 comments so far are from people or groups against the project. One group which has filed multiple comments, Say No to 145-mile Transmission Line Through Maine, claims to have more than 4,000 members.

Local politicians and small towns along the route also are weighing in. The Forks, West Forks and Moose River have voted to oppose the project, and a handful of others are intervening in the PUC case.

On Sunday, Rep. Bradlee Thomas Farrin, R-Norridgewock, sent a letter to the PUC announcing his opposition.

The creation of a new coalition of workers and job creators is meant to remind the commissioners that there’s another side to the story, highlighting the promised benefits of thousands of construction jobs, millions of dollars in new tax revenue and cleaner power for the region.

The support of unionized electrical workers at the Lewiston event also is notable.

In New Hampshire, where the sidelined Northern Pass project was competing last year to build a similar transmission line from Quebec, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers negotiated a labor agreement that prioritized the hiring of workers from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. That was a way to assure that good-paying jobs would go to local residents.

Power line proponents pitch project's benefits in Lewiston

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By Andrew Rice, Staff Writer

LEWISTON — A campaign supporting the controversial proposal for a new hydropower transmission line through Maine was rolled out here Tuesday, a day before state regulators are scheduled to host their final public hearing on the project, which has drawn opposition from hundreds of residents.

The project, known as New England Clean Energy Connect, would bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts via Maine by building a 145-mile transmission line through western Maine, with a major converter station in Lewiston. 

Groups for and against the NECEC project have been using rallies, reports and endorsements in their bids to persuade the three members of the Public Utilities Commission, who are scheduled to vote in late December on whether to issue a key permit for the project.  

A number of Lewiston officials, who have come out in favor of the project, stood among business and labor representatives at a news conference Tuesday morning on Lincoln Street, where the “Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs” campaign kicked off. 

Ben Dudley, director of Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs, said the project would make Maine “a leader in the race against the catastrophic effects of climate change,” by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 265,000 metric tons annually.

“Is Maine going to take this opportunity to be a leader in addressing global climate change?” he said. 

Others supporters at the event, including representatives from the Associated General Contractors of Maine, E.S. Boulos and Cianbro, argued it will produce 3,500 new jobs during peak construction. 

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the thousands of well-paying jobs would be in western Maine,” a section of our state that badly needs them.”

Tim Burgess of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said the project would secure local jobs for Maine electrical workers who have been forced to find work out of state. 

The campaign, a coalition representing workers and businesses involved in the project, is meant to blunt growing opposition to the plan, especially as public opposition has outweighed support so far. 

At a first round of hearings in September in The Forks and Farmington, grass-roots organizers who live near the proposed route and statewide environmental activists orchestrated a show of force. The overriding theme was that the project’s impact on the environment, natural resources and tourism outweighed promises of temporary job creation and economic benefits.

At the PUC, the vast majority of the 411 comments so far are from people or groups against the project. One group that has filed multiple comments, Say No to 145-mile Transmission Line Through Maine, claims to have more than 4,000 members.

Area politicians and representatives of small towns along the route also are weighing in. The Forks, West Forks and Moose River have voted to oppose the project, and a handful of others are intervening in the PUC case.

On Sunday, state Rep. Bradlee Thomas Farrin, R-Norridgewock, sent a letter to the PUC announcing his opposition.

On Tuesday, the Natural Resources Council of Maine joined in.

Sue Ely, climate and clean energy policy advocate for the NRCM, said Tuesday the Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs campaign is a direct response to the “enormous groundswell of town opposition that’s been slowly building over the past year.” 

She said the NRCM does not believe the job creation promised by CMP will occur, and the project will likely harm existing jobs in renewable energy and jobs in western Maine’s recreation and tourism industries that rely on the region’s “rural and scenic quality.” 

Part of the new transmission line is proposed to traverse the Kennebec River Gorge, considered an essential spot for outdoor recreation and summer tourism in the region. 

NRCM officials said they are readying a new study for release Wednesday morning, prior to the hearing.  

Regarding statements by proponents that the project would help counteract climate change, Judy Berk, communications director for the NRCM, said opponents of the power line have found that “the project does nothing to reduce climate emissions.”

“There will be just as much climate pollution created with or without this power line,” she said. “Hydro-Québec would merely be redirecting its existing electricity supply to Massachusetts, instead of selling that power to other customers.” 

During the news conference, Peter Vigue, CEO of Cianbro, said renewable energy only accounts for 20 percent of energy produced in New England. He said when given a choice, “the people of Maine and New England prefer and want clean energy and a reduction of our carbon footprint.” 

The two sides have also been arguing how the project will ultimately impact Maine consumers. 

Dudley said Tuesday that Maine ratepayers would save $40 million a year in lower electricity costs due to price suppression caused by the higher volume of electricity on the New England grid. Opponents say the project would have no direct impact on electricity rates in Maine.

The project has won unwavering support from Lewiston officials, as CMP has projected the city will receive $5 million in annual tax revenue from the converter station project. 

To build the transmission line, Avangrid/CMP needs to win a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, which means it must convince PUC commissioners there is a need for this new transmission line. To define “need,” the commission will consider factors that include financial harm to customers, economic impact, reliability and the specific route.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said Tuesday the company eventually needs project approval from the PUC, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Land Use Planning Commission. 

The company would also need local zoning approvals from towns within the corridor. 

Ely said that over the past week, many western Maine towns have reversed course to either oppose or rescind previous support for the project. 

Wednesday’s hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s offices in Hallowell.

Letter to the Editor: Renewable electricity worth some sacrifices

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With our Gulf of Maine waters warming at an alarming rate and storms of increasing intensity causing all manner of human and economic suffering, most of us welcome an increase in renewable energy sources to reduce fossil fuel emissions. As a lifelong environmentalist, I despair to see former colleagues searching for every possible excuse not to support a transmission line to bring clean power from Quebec into the New England electric grid.

Yes, there will be impacts, but wind, solar and associated transmission also have impacts.

This transmission line is not going through pristine forestland, as many who know better have stated. These lands have been routinely harvested for over 150 years, most of that time with little or no regulation.

The 50 miles of new cleared corridor in the unorganized towns represent a small impact. As a former state fisheries biologist, I can say with confidence that today’s strong Department of Environmental Protection regulations on new power line corridors will minimize the impact to fish and wildlife.

A transmission line crossing the Kennebec River will not ruin a rafting trip that is possible only because of engineered water releases from a concrete dam where rafters begin their trip.

Would we rather let the wrath of climate change affect our world profoundly than make a small trade-off for cleaner air? I would hope that most Maine people would agree with me that the minor impact of a power line that will supply 1,200 megawatts of electricity from a totally renewable source – falling water – is preferable to burning fossil fuels like natural gas to produce electricity.

I support the New England Clean Energy Connect project because the environmental impacts are minimal and the clean air and economic benefits for Maine are the legacy we should leave for the next generation.

Richard B. Anderson

former commissioner, Maine Department of Conservation; former executive director, Maine Audubon Society


Letter to the Editor: CMP project would help expand broadband

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As a member of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, I learned firsthand about the importance of reliable power for our state and the regional grid system. Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect project is bringing a new means of connecting to reliable resources from another source, HydroQuebec, and it means thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars to Maine, which is something we should all be excited about.

But there’s another part of the project that has gone somewhat under the radar that is critically important to western Maine, specifically increased broadband in Somerset and Franklin counties.

I can’t stress enough how frustrating it is to not have reliable broadband service. It’s like a trip back to the 1980s.

There’s no question it hurts economic development. Why would a business what to set up shop in a part of the state where service is spotty at best? Why would customers go to a restaurant or cafe where they can’t sit down and check their phones for the scores of the ballgame or the latest news as they enjoy a meal?

CMP promises to bring expanded broadband cable as part of the project. To bring this resource ot rural Maine communities is significant, and we should support it with open arms. It’s time we bring western Maine towns access to the 21st century internet and this project can help insure it happens.

Andre Cushing

Newport