The debate swirling around the proposed Central Maine Power New England Clean Energy Connect transmission corridor is a high stakes game for Maine. As is always the case with projects of this scale, there are winners and losers.
If it is approved, our state and region will benefit from cleaner air, cheaper and more dependable energy, better broadband coverage, a stronger tax base and many construction phase jobs. Fossil fuel-dependent power generators will be the major losers. The northwestern Maine forest environment will likely change little.
At stake is not only New England Clean Energy Connect, but also the whole state regulatory framework that has evolved over decades to ensure fair treatment of all project applicants and related decisions. This applies to each level of government from town planning boards to state and federal boards and commissions. Unpopular and popular applicants are to be treated equally. If all permit standards are met the applicant must be granted project approval. This applies to Central Maine Power and the corridor.
New England Clean Energy Connect requires primary permits from Maine Public Utilities Commission, Maine Land Use Planning Commission, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Energy. In April 2019, the public utilities commission issued a permit and in January the land use planning commission granted one. Three remain to be determined. Permits are to be given based on scientific information and not popular public opinion.
On Feb. 4 a petition was submitted to the Maine Secretary of State to enable a Nov. 3 statewide referendum to potentially overturn the public utilities commission permit granted 19 months earlier. This effort, if successful, places the entire regulatory system in danger.
Will the eventual result subject all future development proposals to the mercy of public votes? Uncertainty associated with this process will discourage any potential investor from considering states or towns with such clouds hanging over them.
If people are unhappy with board and commission decisions, they should work to elect political leaders who will change the membership of such boards through the appointment process. Such transformations will not change facts but may alter how they are understood.
Maine has worked long and hard to establish a strong and transparent regulatory structure and that should not be put at risk to accommodate an ill-conceived uprising against a better future.
Paul B. Frederic is a selectman in Starks and a former director of the Land Use Regulation Commission.