Though it’s been apparent for some time that opponents of the New England Clean Energy Connect renewable energy transmission line will do almost anything to defeat the project, their latest argument has reached a new level of absurdity. To argue, as Sen. Scott Cyrway did in a June 11 column, that the NECEC should not be built because transmission lines have the potential to pose a fire hazard is a dishonest argument, especially when considering the amount of work project developers have devoted to the issue of safety.
In preparation for bidding and construction, NECEC project developers held planning meetings and met with fire and EMS officials in each of the host communities, the towns of Eustis and Jackman, as well as the Emergency Management Agencies in Somerset and Franklin counties. According to the NECEC project team, these meetings included 24 fire chiefs serving all of the host towns and townships, plus 22 additional personnel representing local, regional and state emergency services, including several representatives from the Maine Forest Service. Collectively, these individuals have more than 1,000 years of experience in fire protection and emergency services.
These fire and emergency response officials in the host communities do not view the construction or operation of the NECEC as a fire or public safety risk. None of the emergency response personnel surveyed by the project team described transmission lines or transmission corridors as a fire risk or differentiated the risks associated with construction and maintenance from general forestry and construction activities.
It is disingenuous at best to hold up the example of tragic wildfires in California and apply it to Maine. It’s important to note that Central Maine Power currently has approximately 2,900 miles of transmission lines and 27,100 miles of distribution/secondary lines — roughly a 10-to-1 ratio. The available data show that the fires in Maine involving power lines are not predominantly associated with transmission lines. Rather, it is predominantly distribution lines running along roadsides, on private property, or connected to homes (trees striking poles, landowner trees from outside rights of way falling into lines — the fire would not have started if there weren’t a line, but is caused by an accident or something hitting the line). And let’s not forget that most wildfires in Maine are caused by lightning, burning brush and debris, campfires and discarded cigarettes.
Though recent fires near existing power lines are unfortunate, they were not caused by transmission lines, according to AVANGRID’s Fire Protection Department. It’s often the case that trees falling on or pushing against distribution lines on private property are the cause of fires that get attributed to “powerlines.” But actual transmission lines like the ones that will be built for the NECEC and already criss-cross our entire state are regularly inspected by the power companies, and are surrounded by lower growth vegetation that is managed so that it will never even come close to touching the transmission lines. The width of the corridor, coupled with the 100-foot height of transmission lines, makes it extremely unlikely, if not nearly impossible, for a tree to strike one of these lines and cause a fire.
To argue that the unconstructed NECEC is too dangerous to one day operate because of potential fire hazards is to argue that all transmission lines everywhere are too dangerous to exist. Unless project opponents believe that the entirety of Maine’s electric grid and accompanying infrastructure should be dismantled, their feigned concerns about the NECEC make little sense. Their arguments simply ignore all the facts on the ground in Maine.
Scott Strom of Pittsfield represents District 106 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.