Maine governor introduces bill requiring 80% renewable energy by 2030

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by Erik Slobe

Governor Janet Mills of Maine introduced a bill to the state legislature on Tuesday that calls for the state to increase the use of renewable energy such that 80 percent of electricity consumed in the state comes from renewable sources by 2030. The bill also calls for the creation of the Maine Climate Change Council to advise the state legislature and governor on “ways to mitigate the cause of, prepare for and adapt to the consequences of climate change.”

By January 1, 2030, the bill also calls for the reduction of gross annual greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below the 1990 annual greenhouse gas emissions level. This will increase to 80 percent below the 1990 emissions level by 2050. The electricity from renewable energy sources will also increase to 100 percent by 2050.

The Maine Climate Change Council will update the state climate change action plan every four years starting in 2020. The action plan will include mitigation strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adaption and resilience strategies for the impacts of climate change, and an evaluation of the current strategies addressing climate change. The plan will be submitted to the Legislature committee that oversees natural resource matters. The committee will then introduce any required bills based on the action plan.

The Council will include up to 36 members from a variety of backgrounds. This includes 14 members from various state regulatory agencies, four from the state legislature (two from each political party), and 18 representatives from various public interests. The representatives include representation from Maine’s energy sector, environmental nonprofits, business, tribes, and manufacturing industry. Each member serves for a two year term at a time. The Council may receive funding from government agencies as well as from private and nonprofit organizations.

There has been a growing amount of legislative actions in recent years to combat climate change. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report released in November warned of significant economic impacts due to climate change. New Mexico’s Governor signed an executive order in January to reduce methane gas emissions. US lawmakers introduced the Green New Deal in February to combat climate change.

How Central Maine Power plans to keep its vow to improve rural broadband

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By Lori Valigra, BDN Staff

A planned broadband cable that would run through rural areas of western Maine promises to bring high-speed internet access to large, underserved areas of the state, but it could take awhile.

The broadband cable would be strung as part of the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect, or NECEC, hydropower project by Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec that would run from Canada to Lewiston. The NECEC project still must gain key permits and approvals, which developers hope will happen by the end of this year.

If the NECEC gets the go-ahead from all parties, it would become operational in 2022, which, as planned, is when the broadband also would be ready for use. The hydroelectric project would use some strands of the broadband fiber for operations, with the rest available to communities that abut it.

CMP already has laid out its vision of how the towns along the corridor would tap into the cable, along with options for how they could pay for those connections.

“This project has a strategic role. It is running through major areas where the state doesn’t have fiber-optic broadband,” said Thorn Dickinson, vice president of business development at Avangrid, CMP’s parent company.

Underserved areas include the Forks and large parts of Androscoggin and Somerset counties, where opposition to the controversial plan has been strongest. The project’s developers included money for rural broadband upgrades as part of a sweetened benefits package that swayed Gov. Janet Mills, Public Advocate Barry Hobbins and some environmental groups to support NECEC.

Not a ‘profit center’

Dickinson said the company is willing to negotiate with towns on how to connect to the network.

“We’re not interested in this being a profit center for the [NECEC] project or in getting money back,” he said. “We want this to be an asset to the people of Maine.”

The broadband cable also would run along a new transmission pathway from Windsor to Wiscasset and a rebuilt transmission line from Lewiston to Pownal.

A broadband network consists of a main fiber-optic backbone transmission line, a “middle mile” portion to which internet service providers connect their own networks and a “last mile” portion in which internet companies connect their network to homes and businesses.

The closer the broadband cable comes to a community, the cheaper it is to bring it to homes and businesses.

The NECEC broadband would include a speedy fiber-optic backbone transmission line and splice locations at which internet service providers could connect. The middle and last miles would be run by internet service providers or public-private partnerships.

Many locations in Maine that have internet access to date do so through slow copper wire telephone landlines, or faster cable or satellite television connections.

Dickinson said not every town along the hydropower corridor has taken him up on his offer to talk about access to broadband. One that has is Whitefield, a town in the Windsor to Wiscasset branch of the proposed broadband network.

“There is an eagerness for faster internet,” said Louis Sell, chairman of the Whitefield Economic Development Committee, which has had three discussions with CMP about the broadband project.

“We are not as disadvantaged as some rural communities, especially up north,” he said. “But we’d like to have some competition with internet service providers.”

Half of the town, some 25 miles, is covered by Spectrum cable internet. Other parts use a telephone copper wire connection. Sell said the new broadband line could improve broadband internet access and cellphone reception in the town.

The NECEC broadband backbone would have connections at five roads in Whitefield. It also would connect to the state’s Three Ring Binder backbone in Wiscasset, one of two planned connections to that network.

The Three Ring Binder internet project, completed in 2012, spans Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Boston. It encompasses three interconnecting circles that run through rural western, eastern and northern Maine from Fort Kent to Biddeford.

Deputy Town Clerk Carman Douglas said Whitefield, unlike many other towns along the hydropower corridor, has not voted on whether to support the NECEC hydropower transmission line.

Who foots the bill?

The NECEC project passed its first big hurdle April 11 when the Maine Public Utilities Commission granted it a permit.

That approval included a stipulation submitted to the PUC on Feb. 21 and contained added benefits, including $15 million for broadband, to make the project more appealing to Mainers who thought they were not benefiting enough from it.

Of that, $5 million will come from NECEC LLC, a separate company CMP created to run the hydropower project. The other $10 million is from Hydro-Quebec.

CMP and Hydro-Quebec are collaborating on the $1 billion project to bring hydropower through a corridor in western Maine to Lewiston. That line is being paid for by Massachusetts to meet that state’s clean energy goals.

NECEC LLC will establish the $10 million NECEC Broadband Fund in consultation with ConnectME, appointees representing Mills and Hobbins, and Hydro-Quebec US.

Details still are being worked out about how the group will collaborate and disburse the funds.

“We haven’t had the ‘how’s this work’ conversation yet. There are other things that need to happen before we figure out the structure,” said Peggy Schaffer, director of the ConnectME Authority, the state’s organization that is charged with spreading broadband access to underserved areas.

She said broadband is unregulated, so the project won’t have to register as a telecommunications utility.

Hydro-Quebec US will make five annual contributions of $2 million each to the fund, starting when the project is scheduled to begin commercial operations in 2022.

A maximum of $2 million could go to the high-speed connection between Maine and Montreal.

The rest will go toward establishing public/private partnerships to get the broadband to the communities. It also will go toward pole license fees or costs to make utility poles ready.

Schaffer said she does not know how much it will cost CMP to build its infrastructure but that the last mile build out of broadband networks can run anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 per mile.

The fund will provide grants to help implement and maintain the high-speed broadband infrastructure in the communities through which the NECEC transmission facilities run.

Splicing into the network

The NECEC project will string fiber-optic broadband for 189 miles. While CMP has a basic plan of how the broadband network could be laid out, the company could be flexible and make some changes, Avangrid’s Dickinson said.

According to current plans, the broadband network will run along the 145-mile hydropower corridor from Canada to Lewiston, plus along another 16.1 miles from Lewiston to Pownal and 26.5 miles from Windsor to Wiscasset.

CMP said the broadband will go through 39 communities and have connection points, or splices in 95 locations, generally at road crossings.

The NECEC broadband and its extensions would cross the Three Ring Binder at Route 43 in Starks and at Route 1 in Wiscasset.

In the first 145 mile-plus stretch of the corridor from Beatie Township along the Canadian border to Lewiston, CMP will run two redundant optical ground wire cables with 36 fibers each to total 72 fibers.

Optical ground wire cables typically are used by electric utilities because they function to both ground the cable and run communications through it. Fiber-optic cables, which carry more information than metal cables, can have from 12 to 200 fibers, or glass threads. Each fiber can transmit messages at high speed over light waves.

That stretch of cable will go to 29 communities and have 69 splice access locations. The average splice location will occur every 2.1 miles.

In the extended area from Lewiston to Pownal, CMP will install one optical ground wire through the full 16.1 miles with 72 fibers per cable. Another wire with 36 fibers will run for 9.3 miles.

The broadband will go through four communities and have 11 splice access locations. The average distance between splices is expected to be 1.4 miles.

The final section of broadband will run from Windsor to Wiscasset. The single cable, with 72 fibers, will run through five communities and have 15 slice locations an average of 1.7 miles apart.

“We are not charging for access,” Dickinson said. “We are making the fiber-optic network available, with the $10 million additional benefit. The market can then pick up the connections.”

New England Clean Energy Connect: The myths and the facts

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8. Claim: The New England Clean Energy Connect corridor will be 145 miles long and as wide as the New Jersey Turnpike; the pylons will be 300 feet tall with flashing lights.

Fact: The new corridor will be 53 miles long and 150 feet wide, half that of the New Jersey Turnpike at its narrowest point; pylons will be 65 to 100 feet high with no lights.

7. Claim: Decarbonization of the Maine and regional power grid can be achieved through alternative energy sources.

Fact: No realistic strategy exists to decarbonize Maine or New England using solar, wind and battery storage sources alone. Timely decarbonization cannot be achieved without the addition of further hydropower to New England’s base-load mix. (Source: “Fully Decarbonizing the New England Electric System: Implications for New Reservoir Hydro,” prepared by Bruce Phillips of the NorthBridge Group at the request of Central Maine Power and released Jan. 31.)

6. Claim: Herbicides used by Central Maine Power will poison every well and stream in the vicinity of NECEC.

Fact: CMP employs integrated vegetation management throughout its corridors, and all treatments are applied by hand. Herbicides will not be applied where there is critical habitat. When complete, the corridor will return to a low-growing mix of plants and shrubs that provide shelter and food for animals, birds, and insects.

5. Claim: The corridor will ruin the visitor experience and inhibit a stronger recreation and tourism economy in western Maine.

Fact: No evidence for this exists. The line will occupy fewer than 1,000 acres, less than 5 percent of one township, and will leave millions of acres in western Maine available for public access and recreation. In the case of snowmobiling, NECEC will add considerable length to the east-west corridor.

4. Claim: Maine’s woods are “our woods.”

Fact: These lands have long been mostly privately owned and actively managed, as evidenced by the network of woods roads we all use to our advantage. Even after NECEC, there will remain more beautiful scenery than anyone can enjoy in a Maine lifetime.

3. Claim: NECEC will benefit only Massachusetts; Maine will get nothing.

Because of the NECEC settlement agreement, Maine will enjoy several hundred million dollars in shared benefits at no dollar cost. There will be $200 million in grid investment; local property-tax and electric rate relief; investment in rural broadband, electric vehicles and heat pumps; 3,500 new jobs at peak construction, and new educational opportunities across the region.

2. Claim: NECEC will fragment a continuous forest ecosystem, with severe, negative impacts to wildlife.

Fact: The real fragmentation across this landscape consists of the thousands of miles of unvegetated woods roads; routes 16, 27 and 201, and natural features like rivers and lakes that most species do not cross.

1. Claim: NECEC poses an existential threat to the region’s brook trout.

Fact: Brook trout streams will be buffered to ensure shading. Climate change is the real, existential threat to Maine’s cold-water fisheries, not NECEC.

In A Win For CMP, Maine Utility Regulators Approve 145-Mile Transmission Line

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By Fred Bever

Maine's top energy regulators handed a win to Central Maine Power Thursday in its bid to build a controversial power line through western Maine.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved a "Certificate of Convenience and Public Necessity” that CMP needs to move the 145-mile project forward.

Commission Chair Mark Vannoy says potential harms of the project are outweighed by its benefits for the state.

“When we're looking at the public interest we're looking beyond the local impacts,” Vannoy says.

He emphasized that Massachusetts residents would finance the billion-dollar project under a contract mandated by that state's government for enough renewable energy from Canadian dams to power a million homes.

That energy influx, he says, would put a brake on electricity prices in Maine, while providing a low-polluting replacement for natural gas and nuclear plants in the region that are due to be retired. And, he says, critics’ claims that it would not produce a net reduction in global greenhouse gas pollution are wrong.

"When that incremental capacity is delivered to New England, it's global,” he says. “It's not substituted through other ties. That means there's a greenhouse gas reduction."

The decision was based on a recommendation from the Commission's staff of analysts and lawyers, but it flew in the face of condemnation in more than 1,000 comments from Mainers, who testified in person or filed written objections in the case. Many of the opponents are from Somerset and Franklin Counties, who say the power line would cut a permanent scar through 53-mile miles of forest, 150-feet wide, from Caratunk to the Canadian border.

"There will be some loss of scenic and recreational value," says commissioner Randall Davis.

Davis says he has fished, rafted and hiked in the area, including to Coburn Mountain, which the power line would cross, and he appreciates the residents' concerns. But he added that after hearing pleas from opponents, he made a more meticulous inspection of the area.

"I have flown the entire length of the proposed corridor from the Canadian border to Moxie and down to Wyman dam. I appreciate the area... I simply do not see the effects using the extreme terms that are often being used," he says.

The three member panel, all appointees of former-Gov. Paul LePage, agreed by consensus that CMP should get the permit.

"Oh yeah we're thrilled, we're thrilled," says Thorn Dickinson, a vice president at CMP's parent company, Avangrid Networks, which itself is owned by Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.

Dickinson says that after 18 months of hearings and filings at the PUC, the company is ready for the next step — permits needed from state environmental regulators.

Analysts say that CMP stands to earn $60 million per year from the power line — which is why many environmental groups say the company needs to do more to offset the project's harms. They want the state to require CMP to conserve tens of thousands of acres to mitigate the fragmentation of what is now a largely unfragmented forest.

Dickinson says the company is willing to talk.

"We understand that any project has adverse impacts,” he says. “That why we carefully sited the project the way we did, and why we've continued to improve the mitigation associated with it and again we are always open minded to additional modifications."

CMP won support from an array of business and other interests, including Gov. Janet Mills, after agreeing to a benefits package Commission staff says is worth around $85 million in present-day dollars.

Two environmental groups, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Acadia Center, did support the project, attracted by CMP's offer to finance efforts to "decarbonize" the state's economy through direct dollar donations to such efforts and by supporting policies to promote renewable energy in Maine. But other conservation groups, including the state's largest, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), have been steadfastly opposed.

Sue Ely is NRCM's lead lawyer in the case.

"This is the Public Utilities Commission siding with Central Maine Power's corporate interest over the best interest of the state of Maine and ratepayers in Maine," says Ely.

While the stakeholders are turning their attention to the environmental reviews, they are also turning to the statehouse, where lawmakers who oppose the project are working on measures that could stall or even kill it.

"There are many more steps to take on this journey," says Representative Seth Berry.

Berry, an outspoken critic of CMP, co-chairs the legislatures Energy Committee. He has submitted a bill that would require affirmative votes of support from towns that would host projects such as the transmission line. Several towns have already voted to go on record against the project, but the Commission's decision could force Berry to write an amendment that would make his bill retroactive. Berry says he would be happy to do so.

Mills: NECEC project will ‘benefit Maine people’

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You know I always expected, and welcomed, a robust discussion regarding the New England Clean Energy Connect project, a discussion that should be based on facts, not speculation and fear.

You may have seen the campaign on Facebook and TV funded by someone who refuses to be identified. Maybe it is one of those big oil or gas companies resistant to the idea of clean energy coming to Maine and New England because they would rather keep us reliant on them.

There has been a lot said about NECEC. I want you to hear the facts directly from me.

So, here is the truth.

During my campaign for governor, I promised to reduce Maine’s dangerous reliance on fossil fuels, to address our carbon footprint and to work hard to prevent and mitigate climate change. I always said that I wanted to see substantial benefits for Maine people before I could support the NECEC project.

Once I took office, I asked HydroQuebec to come to the table and I insisted that the project include electric vehicle charging stations, provisions to support renewable energy, broadband access, and heat pumps, as well as cash relief for ratepayers over and above the benefits of lower electricity prices.

As a result, the stipulation I authorized the Governor’s Energy Office to sign onto is markedly different from where things stood at the end of last year. Many parties including the Conservation Law Foundation, the Acadia Center, electrical union IBEW, the Maine Public Advocate, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the nonprofit Western Mountains & Rivers Corporation, the City of Lewiston, the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, and the Union of Concerned Scientists all agree that this project should go through. The editorial boards of the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News, and the Ellsworth American have all said the same.

By all objective analyses, this project will suppress the price of electricity in Maine and across the region, saving Maine residents alone millions of dollars each year in electricity costs.

In addition, a $50 million Low Income Customer Benefits Fund and an efficiency $140 million fund will further reduce electricity rates for Maine consumers.

The energy that will be delivered by this project will be low carbon hydropower from Quebec’s existing system of dams. When it comes to hydropower, water is fuel. For the past two years, HydroQuebec has generated historic amounts of electricity thanks to an increase in rain and snow, and long-term weather forecasts indicate that this trend will continue, providing more power generation. This project will provide the transmission lines needed to take advantage of that additional stored water, exporting it as clean energy and contributing to a reduction in the amount of carbon used by foregoing the use of fossil fuels.

With an investment of more than $30 million in broadband, in education and scholarships, and other community benefits, and another $30 million in electric vehicle infrastructure and heat pumps, this project will boost, not diminish, the Maine economy. And the settlement ensures continued access to the transmission system for existing and new renewable energy projects in Maine.

The project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in New England by 3.6 million metric tons per year -- that is the equivalent of removing 767,000 passenger vehicles from our roads.

Importantly, the stipulation creates a new special purpose entity -- not Central Maine Power -- to build and operate this transmission line.

And it will cost Maine ratepayers nothing. Massachusetts will foot the bill.

Now I recognize the concerns of those who are worried about the environmental impacts. Already, however, I know that the project has changed a lot to accommodate specific environmental and sportsmen’s concerns. The path of the line has been changed for instance to minimize environmental impact. The line will now run under the scenic Kennebec Gorge instead of over it. And there are proposals to preserve deer wintering areas, revegetate cut-over areas and retain the canopy of tall trees wherever it can.

To put things in context, though, 411,000 acres of trees are cut in Maine every year. The number of new acres that would be felled because of this project would equal two tenths of a percent of what we already cut. This project is undergoing a rigorous environmental review, with public input, at the DEP, at the Land Use Planning Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Presidential Permitting authorities.

The transmission line project, substantially enhanced by this Stipulation, now is poised to benefit Maine people, to inject millions into our economy, to create jobs, to fund electric vehicles, to reduce electricity costs, to expand broadband, and substantially reduce our carbon footprint. I believe that this is a project, on balance, that is worth pursuing.

Janet Mills is governor of the state of Maine.

New England needs more renewable energy. CMP project is part of the solution.

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New England, along with the rest of the world, needs to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases to stave off the worst consequences of climate change. To this end, Massachusetts has set stringent greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and accompanied them with regulations to dramatically increase renewable energy use.

Hydro-Quebec says it can generate significantly more hydroelectric power from its dams than it currently does. It is actively seeking customers for that power.

Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power Co. teamed up to develop a plan to get the Canadian hydro power to Massachusetts. The Bay State, after a plan to run a power line through New Hampshire was rejected there, chose the $950 million CMP/Hydro-Quebec bid to meet its renewable power standards.

The question before the Maine Public Utilities Commission is whether the project, and its proposed 145-mile transmission line through western Maine, meet the standards for a certificate of public convenience and necessity. This requires an assessment of values such as economic and health consequences, electricity reliability and state renewable energy generation goals.

After months of review and meetings, we believe the New England Clean Energy Connect project clears this hurdle. The CMP project offers a real opportunity to bring new renewable power to the New England energy market. That is a benefit to Maine.

Our support, however, is not unconditional or without reservations.

One of the most debated aspects of the project is whether it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Daymark Energy Advisors, a consultant hired by CMP, concluded in a 2017 study that the project would lead to greenhouse gas emission reductions of 3 million metric tons annually in New England. This is largely because electricity that is produced by burning fossil fuels, mostly natural gas, will be replaced with cleaner hydropower.

Daymark also concluded that the project will save ratepayers up to $44 million a year in electricity costs, in part by reducing the state’s dependence on natural gas and its price volatility. It is worth remembering that Maine still has a plan on the books, approved by the utilities commission in 2016, to spend up to $75 million a year in Maine electricity ratepayer money to build pipeline capacity to bring natural gas, much of it produced by fracking, into New England to produce electricity. Having Massachusetts cover the entire cost of a transmission line through Maine to bring hydropower to the New England electricity market makes much more sense.

Critics of the project argue that there won’t be emissions reductions from the NECEC project because Hydro-Quebec will divert electricity it currently sells to other U.S. and Canadian customers to the new line, leaving these customers to turn to other, dirtier sources of power. This can’t be ruled out, but given greenhouse gas reduction requirements throughout the northeastern U.S. and Canada, and Hydro-Quebec’s stated excess generating capacity, we are satisfied that it is unlikely.

We are, however, concerned that the project will depress the demand for renewable energy development in Maine. But that concern is outweighed by the fact that the CMP project is in front of us right now, rather than a theoretical project that may or may not materialize in the future.

Of course, both CMP and Hydro-Quebec stand to make a lot of money from this project. And, to put it mildly, CMP has significant public trust problems because of billing errors and its response to power outages. But this decision isn’t about rewarding or penalizing these companies — it’s about assessing an energy opportunity for Maine.

We believe that the utilities commission was likely to approve the project even before the addition of a negotiated benefits package. Though it isn’t as large or as targeted as it could be, that package is a positive outcome for Maine. The $258 settlement agreement includes $190 million to reduce electricity rates in Maine, with $50 million direct toward low-income consumers. The individual savings will be small, but this is in addition to the other, larger benefits of the project. The agreement also includes $15 million for heat pumps, $15 million for electric vehicle infrastructure and $15 million for broadband expansion, in addition to other payments to communities and educational institutions.

The settlement agreement helped the project win the endorsement of Gov. Janet Mills — who mishandled an announcement of her support and helped to fuel perceptions of “backroom” dealings but nonetheless reached the right conclusion — along with securing support from other groups, including the well-respected Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This plan to responsibly import Canadian hydropower will complement local and regional investments in energy efficiency measures, solar, offshore wind, and storage,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said of the project last month after the benefits package was revealed. “The project will especially benefit Maine residents by lowering their monthly electric bills and providing funds for electric vehicle infrastructure and efficient heat pumps, which will help Mainers wean themselves off fossil fuels.”

The project has to clear many regulatory hurdles — both in Maine and Massachusetts — before it can become reality. Each hurdle comes with complex, and contentious, debate about its benefits and negative consequences. For example, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will weigh the project’s impacts on wildlife habitat, water quality and other natural resources. Those assessments must be thorough and inclusive of local concerns.

For us, an overriding concern is ensuring that new large sources of clean, renewable energy are brought to the New England market. The NECEC is one part of this puzzle.

Maine Voices: Mills’ support for power line shows commitment to constituents, climate change fight

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By Richard Barringer of Portland is a former Maine conservation commissioner and planning director, and was founding director of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine.

Around the time of her January inauguration, Gov. Mills promised that she would serve the people of Maine and address our challenges “with an open door, an open mind and an open heart.” In her decision to support the recent New England Clean Energy Connect settlement agreement, the governor has demonstrated this commitment and, as well, her political courage.

In its simplest terms, the agreement will deliver some $260 million in additional benefits to Maine people over 40 years, in return for a new electric power line from the Quebec border to Lewiston, where it will connect to the shared New England electricity grid.

Key provisions include $191 million over 40 years to provide rate relief for Central Maine Power’s retail and low-income customers; $15 million over five years for high-speed broadband infrastructure in host communities, and $15 million over eight years to support heat pump installation.

The deal also calls for $15.05 million over five years to expand the use of electric vehicles and install public charging stations statewide; $6 million over 10 years to the University of Maine System for grants, scholarships and the commercialization of marine wind generation technology, and $2.5 million over 10 years for decarbonization and planning studies.

Benefits to host communities include $5 million to support economic development in Franklin County; $4 million for vocational programs, scholarships and training in math, science and technology for school districts and community colleges serving students in Franklin and Somerset counties, and $1 million for internships and scholarships at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Other benefits to Maine include: $40 million in annual wholesale electric cost savings for ratepayers; stronger state and regional economies based on lower energy costs, and 264,000 metric tons in reduced CO2 emissions every year, equivalent to removing 57,000 cars from our roadways (the regional total is some 3 million tons of emissions reductions, equivalent to 650,000 cars).

There will be $18 million a year in additional property tax revenue in the host communities and 3,500 jobs at peak construction, an average of 1,700 per year. As well, there will be $200 million in grid investment to enhance reliability and renewable-energy development; $6 million in compensation fund payments plus 2,800 acres in conserved land, and $11 million in environmental mitigation spending.

The agreement was carefully negotiated by representatives of our state government, CMP, Hydro-Quebec and individuals from a host of Maine organizations, and has been endorsed by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

If permitted by regulators, the power that will be delivered as the result of this agreement will contribute to achieving Massachusetts’ ambitious energy decarbonization and climate goals – as well as to achieving Maine’s own, specific goals to decarbonize our energy supply system, once those goals are established by Gov. Mills’ proposed Maine Climate Council.

Make no mistake, when it comes to the growing threat of climate change, “no state is an island.” We are in this existential crisis together, and we shall overcome it only together, as a nation and global community, or not at all. Today, we help Massachusetts – tomorrow, it will be our turn.

I agree with Gordon L. Weil, former director of the Maine Office of Energy Resources (Maine Voices, March 4), that Maine will be even more greatly advantaged if the $260 million settlement were to be paid up front rather than over 40 years and invested in the two great, existential crises facing Maine and our governor: the growing impacts of climate change and lagging rural economic development.

There will be no decarbonization of Maine’s energy system without further hydropower, like that from Hydro-Quebec; our wind and solar potential is insufficient. NECEC is proving a difficult decision for us, yet far more difficult decisions lie ahead if we are to deal with climate change and its effects. If we cannot make this one without deep division and even demonization, I fear we shall fail in what lies ahead – and, as well, that our grandchildren will not find it in their hearts to excuse this failure.

Our View: Climate change fight will take many forms

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By Portland Press Herald, The Editorial Board

In announcing her commitment to fighting climate change, Gov. Mills made clear she would not wait around for one big legislative package.

Mills committed the state to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 in her Feb. 28 speech to the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine. But she didn’t limit herself to any particular tactic.

“Things we can do administratively, we’ll do it,” she told reporters after the speech. “Things that we can do through Efficiency Maine Trust, we’ll do it. Things that we can implement through the universities’ research and development, we’ll do it. Executive orders, we’ll do it.”

That flexibility is important in facing a problem as big and as multi-faceted as climate change. At some point, the state should commit to public infrastructure investment to mitigate the impacts of rising sea levels, such as a $50 million bond issue proposed by Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland. But until then, there are other ways to seize opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint.

One of those opportunities taken was revealed last week in documents filed with the Public Utilities Commission regarding the New England Clean Energy Connect project, a transmission line in western Maine that would bring hydroelectric power from Canada to the regional grid.

According to the filing, Mills got involved in the negotiations right after her election, and through her representatives, put a priority on achieving the state’s climate goals. Mills noted that only 9 percent of the state’s carbon emissions come from generating electricity, but half come from transportation. So the companies pushing the plan agreed to pay $15 million to build a network of charging stations for electric vehicles. Because 60 percent of Maine homes heat with oil, Mills extracted another $15 million to put high-efficiency electric heat pumps in low-income homes, which would not only reduce their carbon emissions, but also lower their heating bills.

And added to the balance sheet is that Maine ratepayers would not have to pay for any of these improvements. The entire cost of the project would be borne by Massachusetts ratepayers, who are buying the Canadian power.

The transmission line would need approval from the PUC and environmental regulators before it can be built. It remains a controversial project, but there shouldn’t be any debate that the state’s negotiators were able to exchange their support for progress on important climate goals.

Not every advance in this arena will come without a price tag, but Mills has shown that she will jump on opportunities as they arise.

After eight years of inaction, that’s good to know.

Massachusetts to Maine Governor Janet Mills: Thank you

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Massachusetts owes Maine Governor Janet Mills a heartfelt thank you. After just two months in office, Mills has thrown her support behind a plan to run a power-transmission line through western Maine to feed Canadian hydropower into the New England electrical grid.

The so-called New England Clean Energy Connect is a big part of Massachusetts’s plan to increase the clean electricity in our power mix and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bestowing her blessing is a gutsy move for the new Maine governor, for several reasons. Mills hails from Farmington, a western Maine university community through which the transmission line would run. In her area of the state, the project is far from popular, to put it euphemistically. 

Further, the power the transmission lines will carry isn’t for Maine itself, but rather for Massachusetts (and possibly, at some later date, other New England states). But the 145-mile-long corridor, which would run from the Maine-Quebec border south to tie into the New England grid in Lewiston, will require cutting a 150-feet-wide swath through 53 miles of Maine’s north woods; the rest of its length will be through existing power corridors, which will have to be widened.

For her efforts, Mills won herself an attack from anonymously funded TV and social media ads that accuse her of “switching sides” now that Central Maine Power “is offering a backroom deal.”That’s unfair. In a statement in response, Mills spokesman Scott Ogden noted, correctly, that Mills had been skeptical during last year’s campaign because she didn’t think the plan offered enough benefits for Maine, but that the new proposal is very different. 

He’s right. Last year, the Maine incentive package was valued at less than $25 million. CMP’s new plan is worth some $258 million over 40 years. The new total includes a $50 million Low-Income Customer Benefits Fund, $140 million in rate relief for Maine businesses, $15 million to help with heat-pump purchases, another $15 million to subsidize electric cars and charging stations, and $10 million for high-speed broadband for communities that host the transmission corridor. That’s a fair deal for Maine. And it comes atop the significant concession CMP offered last fall when it committed to tunnel under, rather than run lines over, the Kennebec River Gorge, a mecca for whitewater rafters in Maine. 

But the new benefits have hardly resolved the controversy over the corridor in Maine. The Natural Resources Council of Maine, a pillar of Maine’s environmental establishment, remains opposed, as does an array of other groups.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission will make a decision on the project in the next month or so. Other regulators also still need to bless the project, and since it crosses an international border, it needs approval from the Trump administration, too. Still, having Mills’s support matters. She made the call here. Yes, this project will have some negative environmental effects on Maine, but as Mills said when giving it her approval recently, “[T]his is a project that is, on balance, worth pursuing.”

However, that conclusion was hardly a slam dunk for any politician, let alone one from western Maine. Here, Mills has risen above the NIMBYism that can be almost reflexive on projects like this. Instead of taking the easy way out, she has put some of her political capital on the line to boost the broader clean-energy cause.

Gov. Mills’ support for CMP project a reality-based stance

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Gov. Mills is to be commended for following through on her promise to make climate change a top priority of her administration.

After expressing doubts about New England Clean Energy Connect, a project to bring hydro electricity from Quebec into the New England market at Lewiston, she took a hard look at the project and, when significant greenhouse-gas reductions were confirmed and over $250 million in new benefits for Maine were secured, she threw her support behind this clean-energy deal.

The governor is in good company. The Conservation Law Foundation, one of New England’s oldest and most respected environmental advocacy organizations, helped negotiate the agreement with Central Maine Power that led to funds for broadband, electric vehicles and charging stations, offshore wind research, and support for a long-term plan to de-carbonize the region and other benefits.

The foundation is now a strong supporter of NECEC.

For too long, government and environmental community leaders have avoided leveling with Maine people about climate change, offering feel-good solutions instead of discussing the trade-offs required to significantly reduce carbon emissions.

As a former state conservation commissioner, I’ve been all over the area where the new corridor will run. It is a working forest, bisected by hundred of miles of permanent logging and access roads. It’s not a pristine wilderness. If we have any hope of arresting climate change, we are going to need more transmission lines moving clean energy from solar, wind, hydro, battery storage and other not-yet-developed technology. This is a trade-off we will have to make to avoid ecological and human catastrophe.

The threat to our boreal forests and cold-water streams and air quality is not from transmission lines – it is from continued reliance on burning natural gas and oil to produce our electricity, which emits enormous amounts of carbon pollution into our atmosphere.

Action now is necessary. Let’s move forward in permitting New England Clean Energy Connect.

Richard Anderson

Portland

Mills, 2 Environmental Groups Back CMP’s $1 Billion Western Maine Transmission Project

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By Fred Bever

Two regional environmental groups and Gov. Janet Mills' administration are signing on to Central Maine Power's bid to build a controversial new transmission line through western Maine's forests.

The billion-dollar project would bring relatively low-polluting electricity from Canada’s Hydro-Quebec dam system through Maine to customers in Massachusetts.

CMP’s incentives package includes tens of millions of dollars to rebate purchases of pollution-reducing technologies, such as heat pumps and electric cars. It also includes funding to reduce Mainers’ electricity rates, on average, somewhere around $1.50 a month.

Gov. Janet Mills’ office of energy independence is signing off on the proposal. In a press release issued Thursday morning, Mills said she authorized further review of the project in an effort to reduce electricity costs for Maine ratepayers.

"By all objective analyses, it will suppress the price of electricity in Maine and in the region, saving Maine residents millions of dollars each year in electricity costs," she said in the release.

Sean Mahoney, director of the Conservation Law Foundation Maine chapter, says more important than CMP's significant incentives, the project will reduce New England’s overall reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

“We’re going to be faced with a host of difficult decisions over the next two or three decades as we try to get our arms around the impending disaster of climate change,” he says.

The Maine-based environmental group the Acadia Center is also lending its support.

Opponents argue that the project will irrevocably damage Maine’s western landscape, wildlife habitat and recreational potential. And they say there is no guarantee that Hydro-Quebec will actually boost its output of hydro-electricity to serve the new contract.

“CLF has not been able to explain to us in terms we can understand, why they think there are climate benefits to this. We think they are flat wrong,” says Nick Bennett, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

State utility and environmental regulators have yet to weigh in.

This story will be updated.

Mills throws her support behind CMP’s controversial plan for transmission line

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The governor signs on to a deal that would give Maine $258 million in benefits in exchange for a permit to build the 145-mile project to send power from Canada to Massachusetts.

BY TUX TURKEL

Gov. Janet Mills has emerged as a pivotal figure in the debate over CMP's proposed transmission line from Canada, even without the authority to issue a permit. Her stamp of approval will boost backers of the project.

Gov. Janet Mills has signed onto a deal to support Central Maine Power’s controversial proposal to build a 145-mile transmission line to carry hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.

The negotiated settlement between the executive branch, a utility watchdog, business and labor groups, and some environmental groups was finalized Wednesday and is expected to be filed with the Public Utilities Commission on Thursday.

The PUC is the lead agency deciding whether there’s a public need in Maine for the roughly $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project, even though none of the power would be directly used here. The PUC’s decision could come in early spring.

The perceived pros and cons of building a transmission corridor in western Maine have emerged as one the state’s most contentious energy and environmental battles in many years. Proponents tout economic benefits, clean hydropower to fight climate change and a tempering of wholesale electricity costs.

Critics dispute the claimed benefits of bringing power to another state, and say, either way, they won’t offset the impacts of the project, including a 150-foot-wide clear-cut for 52 miles through the North Woods to carry new transmission lines that will connect to CMP’s existing corridors.

Maine’s new governor has emerged as a pivotal figure in the debate. The Democrat does not decide whether to issue a permit, but her stamp of approval is a boon to backers of the project. In recent days, Mills has been reviewing the terms of the deal project backers are offering to help win support for the transmission line.

“Gov. Mills has always tried to approach the NECEC proposal with a single standard – that any deal must result in substantial and concrete long-term benefits to the people of Maine,” Lindsay Crete, her press secretary, said in a statement.

In exchange for a permit to build the line, CMP and its partners would dole out roughly $258 million in Maine over 40 years to help lower electric bills, advance clean-energy efforts, and fund other public and community benefits.

CMP had previously tried to make the project palatable to western Maine communities with a $22 million package of conservation benefits, but it failed to gain traction. The agreement signed this week is more than 10 times larger and much broader in scope.

A VOTE WITHIN SIGHT

The deal follows months of negotiations and marks an important benchmark as the 16-month-old case nears a climax. While not binding on the PUC’s decision, the settlement acts as a recommendation to the three commissioners from major stakeholders, including the state’s executive branch, embodied by Mills and the Governor’s Energy Office; consumers represented by the Office of Public Advocate; large power users who are members of the Industrial Energy Consumer Group; and at least some environmental advocates, represented by the Conservation Law Foundation and the Acadia Center. Other signatories include business and labor groups.

“This is how a lot of complex cases get resolved,” said John Carroll, a CMP spokesman. “When you have a (settlement) on the table, it means you’re close to a likely resolution. If an agreement is broadly supported, that’s something the commission looks at favorably. So it would be a turning point for the project.”

Coming to terms with a wide spectrum of interest groups also gives Avangrid, CMP’s parent company, and Hydro Quebec, the Canadian partner that would provide 1,200 megawatts of capacity for the high-voltage line, some momentum heading to another critical point in the case.

The PUC staff and its lead attorneys have spent months analyzing information and testimony and are preparing a much-anticipated examiner’s report. It represents the staff’s expert recommendations to the three commissioners who will decide the fate of the permit. It could come in early March.

The commissioners aren’t bound by the examiner’s assessment, but these reports historically serve to guide their decision. Deliberations haven’t been scheduled, but with a settlement in hand and the examiner’s report pending, a vote at the PUC is within sight.

Although disputed in this case by some parties, any settlement, formally called a stipulation, that includes the Public Advocate, Governor’s Energy Office and industrial customers is significant, said David Littell, a principal at the Regulatory Assistance Project and a former PUC commissioner.

“It makes it easier for the commission to accept it,” he said. “It provides the appearance that the commission is endorsing something that the parties have gotten behind.”

ENVIRONMENTAL OPPOSITION

The power line proposal has created odd alliances. Power plant owners who face new, state-subsidized competition have joined forces with some conservation interests to undermine the project. It also has divided clean-energy partners, with regional advocates endorsing the settlement while Maine’s leading environmental voice, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, is fighting the plan. On Wednesday, the council called the settlement a desperate and calculated move.

“Mainers don’t support CMP’s corridor project because it is a bad deal for Maine and our environment,” said Dylan Voorhees, NRCM’s clean energy project director. “This massive corridor would cause large-scale damage to Maine’s North Woods, would not reduce carbon pollution, and could block local clean energy projects that would provide real jobs and benefits for Mainers. CMP’s settlement offer doesn’t change these fundamental problems.”

The group also said that across as many as 40 years, the $258 million payout would be worth only $108 million in today’s dollars. That would lower monthly household electric bills by only 6 cents, the NRCM calculated, and give low-income households an average benefit worth only $2.37 per year.

The settlement sets up a $140 million fund to help lower electric rates and a separate $50 million fund for low-income customers, paid over 40 years. Also in the package are $15 million for heat pump installations; $15 million for electric vehicle charging stations; $5 million for communities along the power line route; and $15 million for high-speed internet service and fiber optic cable. All totaled, the package has a cash value today of $258 million.

A draft outline of the settlement was first reported Feb. 6 by the Portland Press Herald. The exact terms of the final agreement have yet to be made public. But aside from language changes and certain provisions, the broad outlines of the deal are generally unchanged, according to sources.

NEXT STEPS

Approval from state utility regulators would clear a major hurdle for CMP, but it wouldn’t be the final word. Federal permits are still needed. And in Maine, attention will turn next to the Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission, agencies that also must approve permits for the project to move forward. Issues to be debated there include impacts on scenery, recreation, wildlife habitat, wetlands and cold-water fisheries.

Reflecting the high interest in the project, those two agencies have blocked off at least a week of public hearings, now planned for April 1-5 at the University of Maine at Farmington. Testimony is being consolidated into 10 different intervenor groups, ranging from local residents to power generators and Maine Guides to state officials.

As a candidate last year, Mills was circumspect about the project’s merits. But in recent weeks said she was encouraged by the first draft of the settlement agreement. During a call-in show Feb. 12 on Maine Public Radio, she said she was pleased by CMP’s efforts to sweeten the deal, and mentioned the electric car charging stations as one example. The show led to a wave of calls and emails to Mills’ office.

A day later, Maine Public reported, she had a brief encounter with Ignacio Galan, the head of CMP and Avangrid’s parent company, Iberdrola. The Spanish executive was reportedly in the United States on business and came to Maine to meet with Mills’ staff and introduce himself to her. Mills’ press office said Galan met with the staff for 20 minutes, and that the governor attended only the final minutes and didn’t discuss the project.

Tux Turkel 

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.