MAINE, JUST LIKE NEW HAMPSHIRE, seems to be having some second thoughts about a transmission line selected by Massachusetts to carry hydro-electricity from Quebec into New England.
Four key lawmakers in the Maine legislature wrote a letter earlier this month to Massachusetts utility regulators urging them to reject the power purchase contract with New England Clean Energy Connect, a project that would run a new transmission line from the Quebec border to Lewiston, Maine. The lawmakers said they “see no clear economic or climate benefit to Maine people.”
Not to be outdone, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a big supporter of the transmission line, sent his own letter to Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday that was dismissive of the letter from the four lawmakers and critical of them for implying that their views were representative of the legislature.
“Neither the Maine Senate or House directed or even condoned this letter, nor did the committee on which these individuals serve. These four members represented only themselves and may now have to deal with reprimands for having suggested otherwise,” he said. “I, on the other hand, speak with the full authority of my office and believe that the NECEC will benefit all of us by bringing clean, Canadian hydroelectric power into our grid with minimal environmental or scenic impact in my state.”
The four lawmakers – Republican Sens. Tom Saviello and David Woodstone and Democratic Reps. Ralph Tucker and Seth Berry – highlighted several issues that have been hovering for some time around the Massachusetts decision to import hydro-electricity from Quebec through other New England states. The Maine project won the Massachusetts procurement, but only after the Bay State’s first choice, Northern Pass, was denied a key permit by New Hampshire regulators.
The lawmakers raised concerns that the hydro-electricity coming in from Quebec will not represent new power on the grid, but electricity diverted from other markets, such as Ontario and New York. “NECEC may result in increased greenhouse gas emissions if markets like Ontario or New York have to use dirty fuel mixes to replace the lost electricity from Hydro-Quebec,” the lawmakers said.
The four lawmakers also questioned whether the state is getting the best deal possible from the project’s backers, who include Central Maine Power and its corporate parent Avangrid. The two other projects that offered to carry hydro-electricity into New England – Northern Pass through New Hampshire and TDI-NE through Vermont – offered substantial perks to the home states. Northern Pass promised $210 million in benefits and TDI promised $372 million to Vermont.
“Central Maine Power has not offered comparable mitigation for Maine,” the lawmakers said, noting that the utility has not offered to bury any portion of the 53 miles of new transmission line, including the portion that would span the Kennebec Gorge, a well-known whitewater rafting and fishing spot. [CORRECTION: Central Maine Power officials say they are willing to bury the transmission line under the gorge.]
Finally, the four lawmakers said the project could suppress the future development of renewable energy in Maine due in part to increased congestion on the state’s transmission system. “We are unwilling to sacrifice future development of Maine’s solar and offshore wind industries, which would provide real greenhouse gas benefits and more jobs for Maine citizens, just to provide Hydro-Quebec the ability to market its electricity in Massachusetts,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Appalachian Mountain Trail Club raised similar concerns this week in coming out against the Maine project. The club said the 53 miles of new transmission line would be accompanied by a new, “150-foot-wide cleared corridor through undeveloped forest” and would cause a “significant scenic impact” on the Kennebec Gorge.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission, which is scrutinizing the project, has received 23 public comments, nearly all of them opposed.
Massachusetts officials are expected to release their completed contract with New England Clean Energy Connect shortly.