We deeply sympathize with those who value and enjoy the Maine woods and oppose the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project. We share with them their love of the woods and their concern for its future, based on our more than a combined century of working and traveling Maine’s deep woods and enjoying them on foot and snowshoes, by snowmobile, skis and canoe.
At the same time, we are convinced that NECEC, the Central Maine Power transmission line project, will bring many important and lasting benefits to all present and future residents of Maine.
NECEC’s opponents often argue that, like Baxter State Park, the deep Maine woods ought forever to be left in their natural, wild state. To the untrained eye, Baxter State Park may appear a “wilderness” — even as it is managed every day for its diverse values, including limited timber harvesting, for the enjoyment of the tens of thousands of people who visit it each year.
Indeed, the entire 10 million-acre Unorganized Territory of Maine is by and large a privately owned working forest, managed each and every day for its timber, recreational, wildlife, ecological, scenic and other values; and has been such for well more than a century. To this end, it is criss-crossed by thousands of miles of public and woods roads, as well as by many miles of electric powerlines that serve and accommodate Mainers and visitors, alike.
Opponents to NECEC assert there will be no reduction in carbon emissions into the atmosphere as a result of NECEC. They support a bill, LD 640, that would require the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to do yet another analysis of these emissions. But the Maine Public Utilities Commission just last year paid $475,000 for an independent study that finds NECEC will remove some 3 million to 3.6 million metric tons of carbon from the New England atmosphere each year, equal to removing some 767,000 vehicles from its roadways, and 57,000 from Maine’s alone.
Opponents to NECEC claim there is no surplus water at present behind Hydro-Quebec dams to generate new electricity for Massachusetts homeowners and customers; that Hydro-Quebec will have to divert hydropower from New York and Ontario to New England, replacing this with fossil fuel power. The fact is that in 2018, due to inadequate markets, Hydro-Quebec “spilled” over its dams enough water to produce about 10.4 terawatts of electricity, more than the entire amount it now offers Massachusetts to help it combat climate change. NECEC will carry 1,200 megawatts of new power from this spill, from upgrades at an existing dam, and from a single new dam.
Finally, it is argued by opponents to NECEC that Maine can de-carbonize its electrical energy needs and supply in timely fashion with expanded wind, solar, and battery storage systems. Yet the best analysis we have seen effectively makes the case that there will be no de-carbonization of Maine’s energy system without additional hydropower, like that from Hydro-Quebec; our wind and solar potential prove insufficient.
Opponents of the project have failed to disclose the source of funding for their televised ads. This well-organized and dark-money campaign against NECEC sows fears and anxiety that do not well serve Maine’s civic dialogue. It distracts the public’s attention from what we need to do to help western Maine adjust to new economic realities and grow; from the largest financial investment in western Maine beyond anything seen in recent times; from the impact that a negative NECEC decision will have on the business climate across the region and state; and from our shared responsibility as citizens of planet Earth to combat climate change and its destructive effects.
NECEC has proven a difficult decision for all Mainers, yet there lie far more difficult decisions ahead if we are to deal with climate change and its looming effects. If we cannot make this decision without deep division and even demonization, we fear we shall fail in what lies ahead; and, as well, that our grandchildren will not find it in their hearts to excuse our failure.
Richard Barringer and Richard Anderson served as Maine commissioners of conservation. Lloyd Irland is a professional forester and former Mainer state economist.