The proposal would allow a foreign company to cut a wide swatch through the forest of northern Maine, with little benefit to the state.
By Tom Saviello, Republican state senator from Wilton
Central Maine Newspapers op-ed
Imagine what the people of Maine would think if a European company decided to cut a path the width of the New Jersey turnpike 53 miles through the forest of northern Maine, clearing area equivalent to a nearly 2,000-acre clear cut. Imagine if this European company then wanted to erect thousands of mega-towers along this path, each one potentially the height of the Eastland hotel in Portland.
Then imagine if the European company that wanted to build this superhighway through Maine had also been plagued with competency issues over the last several years.
That’s exactly what Avangrid, a Spanish-owned utility, is proposing to do in Maine with its New England Clean Energy Connect project. Using its subsidiary Central Maine Power, Avangrid is seeking to cut a massive swath of the Maine woods to make way for a powerline structure that will transport electricity from Canada to Massachusetts. Avangrid stands to make $60 million a year from this project, and Massachusetts will get to purchase a significant amount of Canadian hydropower if it’s built.
But Maine, for the most part, will get nothing.
Avangrid/CMP has spent a significant part of the last year going from town to town along the proposed pathway, talking up the project and suggesting windfall tax revenues for some of these cash-starved municipalities. But what they haven’t told them is that the same project was proposed to rip through the woods of both New Hampshire and Vermont, and that those proposals included hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development money for those states.
What has Avangrid/CMP offered Maine? Nothing.
As the senator for Franklin County, there are many aspects of this project that concern me.
First, of course, is the general principle that we’re going to clear-cut this massive pathway through the Maine woods so Massachusetts can buy electricity from Canada. Mainers can’t tap into this powerline, and we can’t buy Canadian hydropower from it. Avangrid is using some obscure math to suggest it will lower Maine’s utility bills, but when pressed they will admit that Maine can only access the Canadian power after it is pooled with the rest of New England’s overall power supply. It likely won’t reduce our energy costs, though it may help mitigate future spikes.
Second, I’m concerned that the proposal for this thruway that was rejected by New Hampshire contained massive financial incentives for that state, but Avangrid’s proposal for Maine contains nothing but alleged property tax revenue increases. New Hampshire’s proposal would have include property tax and a $210 million in economic development and environmental incentives.
Apparently Avangrid/CMP believes ripping a pathway through the Maine woods isn’t as valuable as the same project in New Hampshire.
Lastly, I’m concerned that we’re considering allowing a company with a very shaky record to embark on such a massive project in our state. CMP has been facing operational competency problems over and over lately — their rash of ridiculous overcharging, the failure of their smart meters, and a number of other management failures that have caused the public advocate and others to dig deeper into their operations.
Do we really want a company that struggles to keep up with its existing portfolio to be in charge of running this giant thoroughfare through our precious wilderness?
This proposed electricity superhighway is going to cross over 100 native brook trout streams. It’s going to impact deer-wintering areas. It’s going to cross the Kennebec Gorge. And so far, Avangrid/CMP has not explained how it is going to protect these natural resources. In fact, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection has already issued statements expressing serious concerns about their proposal.
Do we really trust CMP with a project of this magnitude, with so many potentially catastrophic risks for our environment and for ratepayers?
One thing’s for certain — we need to take a long, in-depth look at this proposed project before moving forward. In the coming months, we will no doubt see Avangrid/CMP going out of their way to talk small, cash-starved communities into the benefits of this megatower highway. It’s important that these communities get the full story, and not just a sales pitch. In my experience, the more people learn about the project, the more their concerns grow.
I’ll be watching this process closely, and, along with my fellow legislators, and will do everything I can to make sure any such proposal passes a very high bar of both economic benefit and environmental safety before it moves forward.