It boils down to this: Massachusetts needed a new power source, but it didn’t want an unsightly transmission line in its backyard.
By Sandra Howard of Caratunk, a Registered Maine Guide and a Say NO to NECEC member
Portland Press Herald op-ed
CARATUNK — In 2017, Massachusetts initiated a large-scale procurement process for clean energy to meet their aggressive environmental goals. The only problem was they decided to use somebody else’s backyard. And now we find ourselves in the midst of the most controversial energy debate in recent memory.
Massachusetts tapped Maine as the cheapest place to install their extension cord from Quebec after New Hampshire rejected a similar proposal. Central Maine Power was undoubtedly thrilled, but their proposal to construct 100-foot steel towers along a brand-new power line corridor as wide as the New Jersey Turnpike through western Maine generated a firestorm of controversy.
This goes far beyond plain old not-in-my-backyard syndrome. CMP’s thousands of critics have presented an avalanche of facts about why New England Clean Energy Connect is a bad idea. It’s not NIMBY-ism when residents of entire communities vote to oppose a for-profit development project. Or when respected advocates like the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine rescind initial support once their members grasp the full impacts.
CMP claims that the environmental and other impacts of a huge new power line are justified because NECEC is the answer to global warming. The evidence at the Public Utilities Commission strongly suggests it’s not-so-clean energy. That’s why none of the region’s environmental advocacy groups has voiced support. There are many better ways to address climate change. It doesn’t make sense to address one environmental problem with something that would cause many others.
Then there’s the all-important question: Will NECEC benefit Maine ratepayers? The PUC has to decide whether NECEC deserves a certificate of public convenience and necessity. But NECEC is designed to meet an out-of-state need. It’s a purely for-profit investment by CMP. Hydro-Quebec likes it because they use profits from exports to keep rates low in Canada.
CMP tried to buy support by promising $22 million in mitigation. But then they cut that to as little as $5 million, and they plan to give $50 million to low-income Massachusetts ratepayers with nothing for needy Maine families.
CMP initially assumed they could cut corners with a less-expensive aerial crossing over the Kennebec River gorge. That didn’t go over well with people whose livelihoods depend on providing their guests with a remote wilderness river experience. After withering criticism, CMP agreed to bury the line for 1,000 feet or so. Competing Vermont and New Hampshire projects would be mostly or entirely underground.
At the PUC hearings, CMP executives testified under oath that they will resort to eminent domain if they have to. What happens if the Department of Environmental Protection requires them to re-route around a sensitive environmental resource on to property they don’t own? No problem – CMP will simply take the land from any unwilling landowner. But NECEC isn’t needed to keep the lights on. It’s an elective transmission upgrade – a project that would benefit corporate shareholders, not ratepayers.
CMP also testified that if any of the towns along the route refuse to grant land-use and zoning permits, they will simply ask the PUC to exempt them from those requirements. Why should an elective project like NECEC get special treatment compared with any other homeowner or business that might need a permit?
Thousands of people across Maine oppose NECEC because there is no demonstrated environmental benefit that would offset the impacts to our unique natural resources and our tourism economy. And the economic benefits are illusory, with no permanent jobs, no guarantee Mainers will be hired for temporary construction jobs and the use of inflated tax estimates to try to buy local support.
There will be no benefit whatsoever to Maine ratepayers because it’s not being developed to serve Maine. This is all happening at the same time the PUC has opened a formal inquiry into other aspects of CMP’s ability to manage its customer responsibilities.
NECEC’s opponents are not against economic development or clean energy. We support our arguments with well-documented facts. Massachusetts, not us, is the NIMBY here. They don’t want it in their backyard, and they apparently think we’re a cheap date.