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.