The Natural Resources Council of Maine opposes Central Maine Power’s (CMP) massive, proposed transmission line across western Maine. It would harm Maine’s environment, economy, and way of life—and do nothing to reduce climate-disrupting pollution. It’s a bad deal for Maine.
CMP proposes to build a 145-mile, high-voltage, direct current transmission line from the Quebec border across Maine to deliver power from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts customers. The line would connect with the existing electric grid in Lewiston. The project would also require expanding transmission infrastructure in Durham, Windsor, and Wiscasset to prevent the new line from destabilizing the grid. About 53 miles of the route would be a brand new transmission corridor, requiring clearing of a large, undisturbed swath of Maine’s North Woods. It would cross 263 wetlands, 115 streams, and 12 inland waterfowl and wading bird habitat areas, and disturb many recreational resources such as Beattie Pond and the Kennebec River. CMP deceptively calls the transmission line “New England Clean Energy Connect” (NECEC).
Threats to Wildlife
CMP has tried repeatedly to downplay the value of the landscape where the line would cut through northern Franklin and Somerset Counties. But residents and visitors alike now enjoy the area for its abundant recreational opportunities that are important for our Maine way of life and livelihoods in the region. The outstanding natural resources and the outdoor activities they provide drive local economies. Among many important concerns is its harm to wildlife. The project is bad news from the broad, landscape level down to the damage it would do to individual streams. The proposed corridor bisects a globally significant swath of undeveloped forest. NRCM and other conservation organizations are very concerned about the threat the line poses to this large tract of intact habitat.
Along the way, CMP’s transmission line would harm wetlands, vernal pools, and cool, clear brook trout streams. Cutting for both new and expanded transmission corridors would remove shade trees that keep the region’s excellent brook trout streams cool, harming brook trout habitat and fishing opportunities—especially troubling since Maine is the only state with extensive intact populations of wild brook trout. Clearing for the power lines would also keep deer from winter shelter and feeding areas. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife raised very strong concerns about both of these issues in its official comments on the project.
Transmission lines are necessary parts of a system to deliver the electricity that we all rely on, and similar types of impacts can arise with any big transmission line. However, CMP is siting this project through remote western Maine, choosing the cheapest route instead of co-locating along existing roads.
Line of Deception
Perhaps the most cynical aspect of the proposed power line is the misleading claims by CMP that the project is needed in order to combat climate change. In recent memory, few have been more hostile to renewable energy and energy efficiency than Central Maine Power. Given this history, NRCM and others are rightly skeptical of CMP’s claim that its massive transmission project would help achieve Maine’s climate and clean energy goals.
NRCM has invested considerable time and resources to really understand the details of how this project would affect climate-disrupting carbon pollution. One thing is clear: There will be just as much climate pollution produced whether the line is built or not. In fact, the line could even cause an increase in climate pollution. The line would not result in any additional renewable energy production. CMP’s permit proposal explicitly states that Hydro-Quebec would not construct any new generation resources to supply energy to Massachusetts through a transmission line across Maine. Hydro-Quebec and CMP have tried to distract Mainers with misleading and vague statements about generation upgrades and dams already under construction. At the end of the day, Hydro-Quebec plans to supply the line mostly from power plants that are already providing their power to someone (in or out of Quebec). In addition, Hydro-Quebec may even import cheap, dirty fossil fuels so that the company can make more profits by selling its “hydropower” at a premium to Massachusetts.
The truth is, CMP’s proposal is likely to hinder Maine’s efforts to develop instate renewable energy sources, which actually would reduce carbon emissions. Such an investment would also create jobs and economic opportunities for Maine people. Independent experts have also discredited CMP’s exaggerated claims for job numbers and property tax payments. We need to measure clean energy solutions based on whether they deliver real benefits, not on whether they will deliver $60 million a year in profits to shareholders of CMP.
NRCM is pleased that Maine people and organizations are recognizing the threats CMP’s proposal poses to Maine’s environment and economy. Momentum is turning hard against the corporation’s proposal as individuals, businesses, and communities learn more about the harm and true cost to our state. This is a testament to the power of citizens organizing, even in the face of well-financed, well-connected, multi-national companies like CMP, whose parent company is in Spain.
The public outcry was overwhelming at the three public hearings held by the Public Utilities Commission, the first agency to consider whether or not to grant the project a permit. Additionally, at least five towns have voted so far to oppose the project or retract their earlier statements of support, which were made before the details of the project were well understood. Hunters, anglers, and wilderness guides are becoming outspoken about the problems the power line would inflict on them and their livelihoods.
Permitting processes are underway at the Public Utilities Commission, the Maine Department of Environmental Projection (DEP), and the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC). A large number of opponents have intervened in each proceeding, and we expect public hearings at the DEP and LUPC early next year.
This project would be a bad deal for Maine. It would harm our woods, waters, and wildlife—and the people and businesses that depend on them. It would do absolutely nothing to reduce climate pollution.
—by Dylan Voorhees, NRCM Climate and Clean Energy Project Director
Originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of NRCM’s Maine Environment newsletter