Last summer, I was asked by the Pilot how I felt about the proposed “New England Clean Energy Connect” transmission line and I responded that I did not think it was a good deal for Maine. I said it was unclear as to whether the project would provide substantial economic or environmental benefits, and that I was leery of the very real threat the corridor posed to scenic and wildlife habitat in western Maine, including the pristine Kennebec River Gorge, three points on the Appalachian Trail, 263 wetlands, more than a hundred streams, and remote Beattie Pond.
I wish I could say that my perspective has changed.
But having just driven through Western Maine, along part of the project’s path, I remain more convinced than ever that the Central Maine Power corridor is still a bad deal for Maine, even with all the bells, whistles, dollars and cents now on the table. Sadly, the money and incentives will disappear quickly, while the transmission lines will be there for generations to come. I saw one sign that summed it up nicely: “Governor Mills, stay out of our hills.”
For one thing, it is still unclear whether the reductions in regional carbon emissions can be verified. Regulators in New Hampshire couldn’t verify the estimates when they considered the Northern Pass project and ultimately turned it down. More study is needed to know if the numbers provided by a consulting firm from Boston (am I the only one who thinks that’s suspicious?) are accurate.
Secondly, the 1,200 megawatts of energy shuttled through Maine to Massachusetts is supposed to be clean, renewable energy from Hydro-Quebec, but it’s been reported that the terms of the contract with Massachusetts don’t prevent Hydro-Quebec from diverting hydropower from other markets to satisfy the deal. If those other markets start using non-renewable sources of energy generation, any emissions reductions will be offset.
And then there is the transmission line itself, a threat to clean water, wildlife, and the generation of other types of renewable power, and a permanent 53-mile scar on the landscape in a place where the natural environment fuels so much of the local economy.
The project is not quite a ‘done deal’ yet.
Numerous state and federal permits are still required. While the Maine Legislature does not have a vote on it, bills requiring more information are surfacing, including a bill introduced on Friday by Senator Brownie Carson, of Harpswell.
Senator Carson’s bill asks the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether the project will really lead to a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions before the agency can approve it. Other bills yet to be introduced might slow the project, and one, Representative Seth Berry’s bill to create a consumer-owned Maine Public power utility, could send investor-owned Central Maine Power packing.
In the meantime, several towns have opposed the corridor, including Wilton, who voted against the project early this month. Governor Mills’ hometown of Farmington will vote at its town meeting on March 25. Perhaps residents there will follow Wilton’s lead and vote the project down. If that happens, we can be sure Governor Mills will be listening.
Vicki Doudera represents District 94, Camden, Islesboro and Rockport