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

Read Special to the Press Herald here

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.

Gov. Mills gets CMP project right

Read letter to the editor here

Since Gov. Janet Mills announced her support for the Central Maine Power transmission line project, there has been a frenzy of politically correct opposition. As usual, CMP and government-owned Hydro Quebec are accused of lying or greenwashing so they can make profits on a project initiated by Massachusetts, not them.

So if this is fake clean energy, why is the biggest funder of the opposition the owners of aging New England coal and oil power plants, along with natural gas plants drawing their fracked gas from leaky wells and leaky pipelines to New England? And the fossil fuels they use are coming from the likes of Exxon Mobil, Peabody Coal, the Koch brothers and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Are the transmission line opponents questioning them? And is it better that these interests continue to make profits than have some of CMP’s profits go to their Spanish parent company, which is active in clean energy initiatives?

Instead of complaining about the leaks of methane shipped here, opponents complain about the small amount of methane released from existing dams in far northern Quebec. The biomass plants oppose the project, but how many carbon sequestering trees do they cut compared with what will be cut on a predominantly existing power line?

The opposition claims that Hydro Quebec will deceive us be rerouting their hydropower from other customers like the state of New York. New York has a more aggressive emission reduction initiative underway than we do at the moment, so why aren’t they complaining? And Massachusetts isn’t smart enough to understand that?

Gov. Mills gets it. The focus should be on global climate change and its threat to all the Maine natural resources the opponents want to protect.

Tony Marple

Whitefield

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

Read letter to the editor here

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

Say yes to NECEC

Read letter to the editor here

I have a long history living, working, recreating and guiding along the Kennebec River in western Maine.

I strongly disagree with the attitude of those who oppose the CMP corridor, who last week, gathered to oppose the lawful, legal uses of privately owned property, using a snowmobile trail to “raise awareness of what might be lost,” unaware or inconsiderate of the irony of their action.

The 16-mile trip to the top of Coburn Mountain began near a large boulder bearing a plaque commemorating the donation of property from CMP to West Forks, then ran for 3 miles on town and state-owned property before entering private property, traveling as a guest for the next 13 miles to the summit, crossing property owned by CMP numerous times. The rights of private landowners should not be limited to fulfill the desires of recreational visitors with no skin in the game, who may be seeking a particular experience on someone else’s private property.

Their comments indicate a serious lack of understanding of the nature of a privately owned working forest. It’s wrong to impose a “wilderness” designation or expectation on a working forest landscape. The best way to lose public access to private lands is to threaten the rights of the host landowner.

CMP’s corridor will host a transmission line in an area where working forests and logging roads have long been part of the landscape. The line will deliver clean, renewable energy into Lewiston from which all of New England will benefit. Reducing greenhouse gases is a global imperative unrelated to state or national boundaries, and success will require all hands on deck, pulling together. Say yes to this important first step.

Peggy Dwyer

Livermore

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 

YES to NECEC

Read Letter to the Editor here

by Richard Anderson

The analysis of the impacts of New England Clean Energy Connect will be weighed by the experts the people of Maine employ in the Public Utilities Commission, Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission. These decisions will not be political but rather based on the best scientific analysis on the impacts of bringing hydroelectric power into New England from the province Quebec. When these decisions are made, I believe they will allow for NECEC to proceed to completion.

Global warming will have massive impacts on our environment and all the plants and creatures that share our world. It is up to us to make the necessary decisions to minimize global warming. This project is part of the solution.

Strong regulations apply to building all power line rights-of-way. Power lines that cross brooks, wetlands and other important wildlife areas are very strictly regulated, and while there will be some impacts, the Department of Environmental Protection will require mitigation.

The positive effects on our Maine environment far outweigh any negative impacts, and at the same time, the project will save Maine electricity consumers money. Present producers of electricity oppose this project because it will likely reduce the price of energy they’re trying to sell us, which is mostly made by burning natural gas.

Sustainable energy includes hydro

Read article here

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.

Read article here

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