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Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land?
The primary aim of Question 1 is to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect, a transmission line that would run for 145 miles across western Maine to bring hydro-electricity from Quebec to Massachusetts. The Bay State is paying for the project as part of its clean energy plans. Some of this cleaner power will flow to Maine, along with a package of benefits, including investments in broadband, heat pumps and education.
This initiative is the wrong way to address objections to the corridor and, if passed, its language could have far-reaching implications beyond this transmission line project.
That’s why we suggest a No vote on Question 1.
A yes vote on Question 1 has the potential to largely lock Maine into our current energy mix, which is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and could hamper efforts to combat climate change. Companies that own fossil fuel and nuclear plants that generate electricity in Maine and nearby states, three of which are financially backing a yes vote on the referendum, could lose $1.8 billion over 15 years if the corridor comes online bringing lower cost electricity to the region, according to an economic analysis released by corridor supporters.
We first supported construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect, a spinoff of Central Maine Power Co., in 2019 because we think it can be part of Maine’s and the region’s necessary work to diversify our energy supply to combat climate change. Three different analyses, including one sponsored by project opponents, have estimated the introduction of hydroelectricity over the line would reduce New England’s carbon emissions by at least 3 million metric tons a year.
The first phrase in the question would ban the NECEC corridor, which is already under construction and follows existing CMP corridors for about two-thirds of its length with 53 miles of a new 54-foot corridor from Quebec to The Forks. It would also ban any future high-impact electric transmission lines, which the referendum defines as a line longer than 50 miles, capable of operating at 345 kilovolts or more and not used primarily for reliability or interconnection, in the Upper Kennebec Region, an area roughly from Jackman to Bingham. The region’s land is primarily used for commercial forestry and crisscrossed by roads and other infrastructure, including hydro-electric dams.
The second two parts of the question zero in on a one-mile stretch of the corridor that crosses public land near The Forks. A provision of the Maine constitution says public lands that are held for “conservation or recreation purposes … may not be reduced or its uses substantially altered” without approval of two-thirds of the Legislature.
Because the public lots in question are used for timber management, not conservation or recreation, and are already crossed by a small power line, the Maine Bureau of Public Lands determined in 2014 that it did not need legislative review to grant CMP a lease to cross the public lots.
A Maine Superior Court justice recently disagreed, saying that the bureau doesn’t have a proper process for determining a substantial alteration and the leases were vacated. The decision has been appealed. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is holding a public hearing on Tuesday on whether it should suspend the license it granted to the NECEC because of the judge’s ruling.
The language in the legislation that would be enacted if Question 1 passes would essentially expand the language of the Maine Constitution to require two-thirds legislative approval for a variety of projects, including transmission lines, landing stips, pipelines and railroad tracks, on public lands. This language would be retroactive to 2014, when the BPL first approved a lease for CMP.
It would also add a provision to state law requiring a majority vote in the Legislature to approve high-impact transmission line projects anywhere in Maine, even if they are not on public land. This would insert the Legislature into the permitting process, giving politicians potential veto authority over other non-partisan agency approvals.
The three provisions in Question 1, especially the new legislative approval requirement, are an overreach that could hamper future projects and investment in Maine.
We fear that passage of Question 1 would send a worrying message to those who may want to invest in and develop major projects in Maine that the state’s regulatory environment is too uncertain. The corridor has received approval from seven federal and state agencies and more than a dozen municipal approvals, which in most instances, included opportunities for public comment or hearings.
CMP has not done itself any favors through its persistent mishandling of customer service and billing errors and its opposition to many renewable energy projects. It is clear that the company diverted vital resources away from serving its customers to pursue and develop the new transmission corridor.
CMP and its associated groups took a risk by starting construction of the corridor while legal challenges and the ballot question loomed.
Many Mainers are also troubled that CMP, which is owned by the Spanish company Iberdrola, and Hydro-Quebec, which is owned by the province of Quebec, will make a lot of money from this project. Energy companies that are financially backing a yes vote on Question 1 will continue to make a lot of money if the measure passes. Most of those companies, which generate energy from a variety of sources including natural gas, oil and nuclear power, are not headquartered in Maine. This decision isn’t about rewarding or penalizing these companies — it’s about assessing an energy opportunity for Maine.
If Question 1 passes, we fear an opportunity to make the energy supply in New England and Maine a little cleaner will be lost and a message will be sent that Maine is not welcome to the investments and infrastructure needed to do this essential work.