NRCM Statement on CMP Transmission Line Proposal: New England Energy Connect
February 21, 2018
The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) opposes this project because of significant concerns about the environmental impact of both the line itself and of the sources of power the line may serve and concern that Governor LePage wants to push the project through state agency permitting without fair, science-based review. Some of our concerns stem from the fact that Central Maine Power (CMP) has not disclosed the sources of power the transmission line would serve, raising questions about whether or not the proposal would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as claimed.
In March 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and Massachusetts utilities issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for long-term contracts for clean energy generation from hydropower and/or wind or solar energy projects. A total of 46 different proposals were submitted for wind, solar, and hydropower projects. There were also bids for lengthy transmission lines from Quebec through Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, as well as some for buried transmission cables from Searsport, Maine; New Brunswick, Canada; and under Lake Champlain.
Two proposals came from Central Maine Power, including the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission line, a 145-mile, high-voltage, direct current (DC) line from the Quebec-Maine border to an interconnection with the existing New England grid in Lewiston. CMP has heavily promoted the NECEC, claiming that it “provides maximum environmental and energy benefits at less cost than any competing proposal.” The company has told the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that all of the costs would be borne by Massachusetts ratepayers.
In January 2018, Massachusetts announced it had selected the Northern Pass transmission line, which would carry power from Hydro-Québec through New Hampshire. (NRCM does not have a position on the Northern Pass project; however, a wide range of environmental organizations in New Hampshire oppose it.) In February 2018, Massachusetts announced it would also negotiate simultaneously with CMP for the NECEC project, in case the Northern Pass project does not proceed.
NECEC Proposal & Concerns
About 53 miles of CMP’s NECEC proposal would create a brand new transmission corridor. The rest of the line would require new vegetative clearing and expanding transmission line development within existing corridors. CMP has proposed to build above-ground transmission lines across the Kennebec River Gorge, three points on the Appalachian Trail, 263 wetlands (affecting more than 76 acres), 115 streams, 12 inland waterfowl and wading bird habitat areas, and near Beattie Pond, a Class 6 remote pond.
Despite these significant environmental impacts, CMP has been unable to demonstrate that this transmission line would provide any environmental benefits, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions. CMP claims that the NECEC would provide “clean energy” to New England but told the Maine PUC it does not know where this energy would come from, beyond being supplied by Hydro-Québec. It does not know if the power would come from new dams or existing dams, for example. Research has shown that hydroelectric power can have far greater greenhouse gas emissions than previously recognized, particularly from northern boreal reservoirs like those operated by Hydro-Québec.
Furthermore, CMP has also failed to demonstrate that its proposed contract with Hydro-Québec would not displace existing power supply in Canada, resulting in current hydroelectric power consumers increasing the use of other sources of power, such as coal or natural gas. If Hydro-Québec is simply selling existing hydroelectric power to New England and switching its current customers to fossil-fuel energy sources, there would be no benefit to the climate.
NRCM is very concerned about statements from the LePage Administration about the NECEC, promising to “push it right through” the permitting process. Maine people deserve a fair, science-based review, not a rush to judgment that benefits two foreign-owned companies.
Slick public relations notwithstanding, CMP’s claims that the NECEC proposal would provide “maximum environmental and energy benefits” are not supported by the limited information available to the public or to Maine’s decision makers. NRCM urges the Public Utilities Commission, Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC), and Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to require CMP to provide specific facts about the sources of electricity served by this proposed transmission line and the environmental and carbon pollution associated with those resources—and about the impacts of the line itself—before making any permitting decisions. Given the statements about process, these agencies will be under greater scrutiny to ensure a fair, transparent process that does not put CMP’s preferred timetable ahead of having all the facts considered.
Maine and New England need to increase the use of renewable power to further reduce fossil fuel burning and meet our critically important greenhouse gas reduction goals. However, there are many ways to achieve that objective. First and foremost, we should look to new renewable energy sources like wind (on and offshore) and solar, which are less likely to cause large-scale environmental impacts than large hydroelectric dams.