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.