By Lisa Pohlmann, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Central Maine Power is pushing for a huge transmission line that would cross large areas of Maine’s undeveloped North Woods, including the famous Kennebec Gorge. The line would allow Hydro-Quebec, a government-owned Canadian company, to sell its electricity at a premium in Massachusetts. The Natural Resources Council of Maine strongly opposes this proposed transmission line and believes it is a bad deal for Maine and its environment.
The proposal would require cutting 53 miles of new transmission line corridor and widening 92 miles of existing corridors. This would have serious effects on Maine’s forests, fish and wildlife.
The line would cross more than 100 streams that provide key habitat for brook trout in Maine, which is the last stronghold of brook trout in the United States. CMP has not proposed adequate tree cover along the shores of these streams to keep them cool enough for brook trout to survive.
The proposed transmission line would also cut across deer wintering areas, where older evergreens provide the food and shelter deer need to survive in cold weather and deep snow. In winter, the transmission line could completely block the ability of deer to seek new sources of food or escape predators. And this huge power line would cross the iconic Kennebec Gorge, where thousands of Mainers and tourists raft, hike and fish every year.
These impacts would be concerning on their own, but they become even more egregious given that this project will not reduce air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. It would just shift electricity sales to Massachusetts from other places.
Other utility companies that bid for the same Massachusetts contract offered hundreds of millions of dollars to mitigate these sorts of impacts for similar transmission proposals through Vermont and New Hampshire. CMP has offered almost nothing.
In fact, even with a proposed large mitigation fund, New Hampshire regulators recently rejected a very similar proposal to run a transmission line (called the Northern Pass) from Hydro-Quebec to Massachusetts because the costs outweighed the benefits. The regulators concluded that Northern Pass would cause significant harm to the environment and interfere with tourism and local economies. They also concluded there was no evidence that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions or air pollution.
All of the issues that led New Hampshire to deny the permit are of equal concern in Maine.
Experts testifying before the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which is in the process of evaluating the transmission line proposal, have concluded it would not reduce air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. This is because Hydro-Quebec is not building new hydropower facilities to supply Massachusetts. Instead, it is proposing to shift power it currently sells to places like Ontario and New York to Massachusetts, which is willing to pay more for it. New York and Ontario will then need to find other power to substitute their loss from Hydro-Quebec, likely with gas, oil or even coal generation. In the end, this is just a shell game; there would be no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, just higher profits for Hydro-Quebec and CMP.
Expert testimony to the utilities commission also shows that CMP’s line could clog Maine’s transmission grid. Increased congestion would likely deter future renewable energy projects in Maine. This would hurt our state’s economy and environment, because new renewable power generation here would actually cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, unlike the CMP transmission line. In-state renewable energy projects, such as the Aqua Ventus offshore wind project, would also employ far more Maine people than CMP’s proposed transmission line.
We should learn from our neighbors in New Hampshire, who wisely rejected the Northern Pass even with an offer of hundreds of millions of dollars to mitigate its damage. Northern Pass did not make sense for New Hampshire, and CMP’s transmission line makes no sense for Maine. We need to control our energy future with renewable energy projects closer to home. That is best for Maine’s economy and environment.
Lisa Pohlmann is the CEO of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.