AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s citizen board rejected on Thursday the latest effort to delay or kill a $1 billion power line, and the next hurdle for the project lies with the state Supreme Court.
The citizen board declined Thursday to rescind the permit for a power line to serve as a conduit for Canadian hydropower to reach the New England power grid.
The Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) unanimously upheld the permit for the $1 billion project but required some stipulations including conserving an additional 10,000 acres of land to offset the loss of wildlife habitat caused by construction in western Maine.
Supporters say the project would remove carbon from the environment and stabilize energy costs in a region that’s heavily dependent on natural gas for energy. Detractors said the environmental benefits are overblown, and that the project would destroy woodlands.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, a leading opponent of the project, expressed disappointment with the outcome.
Pete Didisheim, the environmental group's interim CEO, said after the vote that he remains hopeful the state Supreme Court will uphold a referendum in which Mainers voted to reject the project.
“The next important action will come from the law court,” he said. “We hope they will uphold the will of the Maine people to terminate this project.”
The New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) made the following statement at the BEP's Thursday appeal hearing, the second day out of a two-day appeal hearing:
“For the past three years, every regulatory body at the local, state and federal level that needed to do so has thoroughly reviewed the New England Clean Energy Connect. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection concluded two years ago this project will benefit our environment. We are pleased that the decision stands and will review the proposed conditions.
"As parts of the world are currently experiencing unprecedented heat, drought and wildfires from a dramatic climate crisis, the real and serious need for this project to address climate change remains unchanged.
"The NECEC has gone to great lengths to mitigate the environmental impacts of the project, affecting only a thousand acres of land while committing to conserve tens of thousands of acres.
"With the price of gas and oil spiking, the need for the Clean Energy Corridor is even more evident today. We remain committed to the construction of the corridor and playing a significant role in Maine’s clean and renewable energy future.”
Central Maine Power’s parent company and Hydro Quebec teamed up on the NECEC, funded by ratepayers in Massachusetts, that would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the regional power grid.
Most of the proposed 145-mile power transmission line would follow existing corridors, but a new 53-mile section was needed to reach the Canadian border.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection already approved the project in 2020, and much of the trees were cleared and poles were erected after other regulators signed off as well.
But DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim put the project on hold after the referendum, and the citizen board was required to hear appeals of the original permit brought by opponents.
Opponents have been seeking to kill the project either outright or through delays. Developers of the project contend they’ll miss a contractual deadline with Massachusetts utilities if the delays continue late into the summer, resulting in costly penalties.
The state Supreme Court, meanwhile, is expected to rule on two lawsuits in upcoming weeks. The court is considering the constitutionality of the referendum and the legality of a lease that allows a small portion of the power line to cross state land.