INDUSTRY – The Board of Selectpersons has indicated its opposition to the New England Clean Energy Connect project in a May 7 letter to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, rescinding its previously-issued support. Meanwhile on the state level, a power company appealed the MPUC order that granted an important certificate for the project with an additional day of state agency hearings scheduled for Thursday.
MPUC ordered the issuing of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the $1 billion project last month. The Central Maine Power project would create a 145-mile, Direct Current transmission line with 1,200 megawatt capacity that would link Canadian hydro power to the New England grid via a converter station in Lewiston. In March, MPUC’s staff issued an Examiner’s Report that recommended the commissioners issue the certificate and allow the project to go forward. The three commissioners unanimously agreed, finding that the project’s improvements to the electric system’s reliability and cost outweighed potential impact to scenic and recreational values. That decision was welcomed by Central Maine Power and denounced by opponents.
One of those opponents was NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, an energy company that was an intervenor during the MPUC process. On May 7, NextEra appealed the MPUC order granting the certificate, arguing that CMP hadn’t adequately investigated alternatives to the transmission line, among other issues. The appeal will be heard by the Maine Supreme Court.
On the same day, Industry’s Board of Selectpersons indicated to the MPUC that they were revoking the town’s support for the project and taking up a new position of formal opposition. Industry’s board supported the project in a letter sent to the MPUC in fall 2018, but that previous communication had been sent when the board had “limited information, as Central Maine Power was only in the initial application phase,” according to the May 7 letter. Industry would join the towns of Farmington and Wilton as Franklin County communities that previously supported NECEC but had since come down in opposition to the transmission line.
Jay town officials have received a petition to hold a town meeting on Jay’s support for NECEC. The Jay Board of Selectpersons will be discussing the petition on May 13.
The project’s next steps in to seek permitting from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Land Use Planning Commission. A joint hearing, continuing the five days of hearings held in Farmington in early April, will be held Thursday at the Cross Insurance Arena in Bangor.
In advance of that hearing, CMP has indicated that it would not use herbicides or pesticides in the construction of the 53 miles of new corridor.
CMP President and CEO Doug Herling called that commitment “another positive step forward towards a significant environmental milestone created by [NECEC],” in a statement released Wednesday.
“With an on-going objective of continuous improvement on environmental responsibility, we operate our business in a sustainable and prudent manner, including reduction of our own carbon footprint,” Herling said.
Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposes the project, said that refraining from the use of herbicides or pesticides would not change the “fundamental flaws” of the project.
“The damages that would be done to Maine’s North Woods have been well documented and would occur regardless of herbicide use,” NRCM staff scientist Nick Bennett said, listing issues such as reduced brook trout habitat and deer wintering yards, as well as the visual impacts of the project.
In addition to the state agencies, federal approval is required, including approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At the end of April, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to the USACE asking for additional information, including more detail about mitigation for steam and brook impact and possible alternatives to the NECEC corridor.