MAINE, USA — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a permit to Central Maine Power Company (CMP) on Monday for construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project.
CMP now still needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers. According to NEWS CENTER Maine's partners at the Portland Press Herald, the project also still requires a presidential permit to cross the Canadian border, which would come from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“The decision by the MDEP to permit the New England Clean Energy Connect represents another significant step for this project and is the culmination of a rigorous process that began more than two years ago,” Thorn Dickinson, CEO & President of NECEC Transmission LLC, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Commissioner and his staff to meet the conditions outlined.”
The Natural Resources Council of Maine issued the following statement in response to the issuance of the permit:
“Today’s DEP permit fails to address the fact that CMP’s proposed transmission corridor would result in no real reduction in global carbon pollution while inflicting enormous harm on Maine’s North Woods and the local communities and Mainers who depend on it for their livelihoods. This project remains a bad deal for Maine. The best path forward for Maine people is to focus on the creation of hundreds of real, local clean energy projects that create thousands of long-lasting jobs here at home, not a destructive transmission corridor with no climate benefits designed primarily to deliver billions in profits to CMP’s shareholders and Hydro-Quebec.”
The project includes an electric transmission line from the Quebec border in Beattie Township to a new converter station in Lewiston, as well as several upgrades to CMP’s existing electrical transmission network between Lewiston and Pownal, Windsor and Wiscasset, and in Cumberland. Approximately two-thirds of the 145-mile transmission line is proposed to be built along CMPs existing transmission corridor. The remainder of the line, known as Segment 1, would run through commercial timberland in western Somerset and Franklin counties.
Maine DEP’s issuance of the permit follows two and a half years of technical review, including extended evidentiary hearings and public hearings. In addition, on March 13, Maine DEP released a draft of the permit for public comment. This comment period was later extended to account for the disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis. After careful consideration of the comments received, Maine DEP issued a final permit for the project.
Maine DEP’s permit contains a set of conditions that minimize the project’s environmental impact and require extensive land conservation and habitat protection plans. The conditions in the final permit retain all the protections from the draft permit. For example, the permit:
- Limits the corridor width in Segment 1, originally proposed to be 150 feet, to 54 feet at its widest point, limiting visual and habitat impacts;
- Requires preservation of natural forest canopy or trees at least 35 feet tall across the corridor in vulnerable habitat areas covering approximately 14 miles along Segment 1, protecting wildlife, wildlife movement, and plant species;
- Requires the conservation of more than 700 acres of deer wintering habitat and the preservation of soft wood deer travel corridors across the transmission corridor in an important deer wintering area along the Kennebec River;
- Prohibits herbicide use throughout Segment 1 of the corridor;
- Requires permanent conservation of 40,000 acres in western Maine; and
- Requires CMP to set aside $1,875,000 for culvert replacement projects, which will enhance fish habitat by facilitating passage, reducing erosion, and improving water quality.
The final permit also imposes additional terms and conditions that ensure both the effectiveness of the permit’s protective provisions, and that the intended benefits are fully realized. These changes:
- Require that CMP fully fund the removal and decommissioning of the Segment 1 transmission line after the life of the project;
- Strengthen the permit’s land conservation provisions. The final permit requires CMP to develop a Conservation Plan governing land use on 40,000 acres in the vicinity of Segment 1 and submit the Plan to DEP review and approval. The Conservation Plan must be designed to compensate for the fragmenting effects of the corridor, prioritize the conservation of large blocks of land, and promote conservation of mature forest habitat;
- Require that CMP actively manage vegetation along the tapered sections of Segment 1 to maximize benefits to wildlife.
Collectively, Maine DEP said the requirements of the permit require an unprecedented level of environmental protection and compensatory land conservation for the construction of a transmission line in Maine.