AUGUSTA, Maine — Editor's note: The above video aired Nov. 5.
“Honor our vote,” protestors chanted. “Suspend the permit!”
That message was delivered to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection Thursday at a noontime rally outside the DEP offices.
It was the latest effort by opponents of the New England Clean Energy Connect—better known as the CMP corridor—to persuade state agencies to stop the clearing of the new, 53-mile section of corridor in the western Maine forest.
Maine voters passed the Question 1 referendum on Nov. 2, which requires Legislative approval for such a transmission line and specifically prohibits one in the Upper Kennebec Region.
Avangrid, the parent company of NECEC Transmission, is challenging the new law created by the referendum in court. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for Dec. 15.
The Maine DEP, however, will make a decision first, whether to suspend the permit for the project, which would presumably result in an immediate halt to construction. The DEP has a hearing on the issue scheduled for Monday evening.
But the Natural Resources Council of Maine and other opponents don’t want to wait, urging the DEP to take immediate action.
“Each day that passes is a nod by CMP to shareholders,” NRCM’s Pete Didisheim told the crowd, “and an insult to Maine people. We have never seen a company behave like this.”
The DEP has actually been considering suspending the project permit since mid-August when a judge ruled the permit for the corridor to cross public lands was invalid.
Opponents at that time called on the agency to suspend the permit, arguing the judge’s ruling represented a significant change of conditions from when the permit was originally approved. The DEP has been studying that issue ever since but has not yet ruled.
Now, opponents contend the referendum vote marks an even bigger change in condition because it will make the project illegal when the new law takes effect sometime next month.
The DEP has promised a decision on both questions by the end of the month. Opponents argued Thursday there should be no question.
“These past two years Mainers refused to stand by and let our state be ravaged to generate profit for someone else,” CMP corridor opponent John Brautigan, an attorney, and former state legislator said.
“And we won’t stand by now to let those same companies take a chain saw and a bulldozer to our democracy,” he said.
For its part, Avangrid is rejecting the opponents’ arguments and standing behind both the project and its efforts to protect it.
"Yesterday, the Public Utilities Commission announced a substantial rate increase in generation costs, citing spiking fossil fuel prices.” The NECEC wrote in a statement.
“This is yet another example of why more renewable energy projects, such as the New England Clean Energy Connect are needed. Despite the best efforts of the fossil fuel companies to spread disinformation about the NECEC, this project remains critical in the fight to combat the climate crisis in Maine and New England and is vital to our economic and renewable energy future. This project is fully permitted, and we will continue to advocate for the jobs of hundreds of Mainers while the appeal process plays out."
The next step will be the DEP decision. Then the Maine Business Court is expected to rule on the challenge to the new law sometime in December.
Avangrid is seeking a temporary injunction to block that law from taking effect while its full challenge of the constitutionality of that law can be considered by the court.