As a long-term member and past board member of the Natural Resource Council of Maine, I have tremendous respect for the decades of work they have done and continue to do to protect Maine’s environment. But I think their opposition to the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect as described in the recent column by Dylan Vorhees, is a serious strategic mistake from a climate perspective (“CMP’s history breeds skepticism on clean energy initiatives,” Nov. 17).
While I agree with NRCM’s frustration with Central Maine Power’s pas opposition to solar net metering and energy efficiency, this is a Massachusetts-initiated plan to meet the state’s clean energy goals. While many ask “What’s in it for Maine?”, reducing greenhouse gases is a global necessity unrelated to state boundaries. The fact that CMP would profit from the power line that would connect HydroQuebec and Massachusetts and the New England Electric Grid is a way to demonize CMP and undermine the project, but it is absolutely irrelevant in the context of the looming climate crisis.
In fact, every manufacturer or installer of clean energy resources, including wind and solar, will need to be very profitable to sustain and expand their essential work while researching technological improvements. These are investor-owned or privately held companies. Ironically, the same people who deride CMP for their profit motives never demonize the natural gas industry and the owners of aging fossil fuel power plants, both threatened with huge financial losses if the project is approved. The fossil fuel interests have for years been vocal opponents of this project, which is very telling.
The claim made by Voorhees that the proposed transmission line project “will do nothing to reduce climate-disrupting pollution” is unsupported by any available facts. Information provided by HydroQuebec shows that in addition to current reservoir reserves behind their dams, the 2020 opening of new generating facilities and the ongoing turbine upgrades are more than enough to meet the 1090 megawatt hours set forth in the contract with Massachusetts. Since HydroQuebec is government owned and active in international climate initiatives, I see no reason to distrust their numbers. Independent analysts hired by the Maine Public Utilities Commission testified that the transmission line would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3 million metric tons each year, or the annual equivalent of tailpipe emissions created by 660,000 cars. When opponents claim that the project will have no climate benefit, it suggests that Massachusetts is just trying to meet their law defining clean energy goals but that they are just stupid or really don’t care about climate change.
Voorhees references the need to meet Maine’s current goal to reduce hydrocarbon emissions to 75 percent to 80 percent below 2003 levels by 2050, a good goal that NRCM helped develop. But the recent and frightening U.N. climate report suggests that globally we must reduce emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050 to avoid climate chaos.
I find it hard to believe that we can meet either of these emission reduction goals without imported hydropower and by just adding more solar panels, inoffensive wind turbines, and offshore wind that will require above-ground power lines when underwater cables reach the shore. Furthermore, hydropower is a critical resource as backup to the significant seasonal and daily variability of wind and solar, and that backup role is now provided by fossil fuel plants. Meeting essential emission reduction goals requires the electrification of all forms of transportation and the conversion of fossil fuel heating of houses and other buildings to heat pumps. This requires a huge amount of all sources of clean electricity including that provided by Canadian hydropower.
We urgently need a quantifiable and aggressive decarbonization plan and any such a plan will no doubt create some local opposition. Our children and grandchildren will be far more deeply offended if we don’t implement such a plan very soon. NRCM, HydroQuebec, Massachusetts, CMP and others need to cooperate to implement the project in a way that minimizes local environment impact and maximizes the far more important reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. There is no time to waste.
Tony Marple is retired after a career in health care administration and serves on the Whitefield Select Board.