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Tim Burgess is the assistant business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 104.
When President Joe Biden addressed the nation this past spring, he delivered a clear message to Americans: If we act to save the planet, we can create millions of jobs in the process. “My American Jobs Plan will put hundreds of thousands of people to work,” he said when unveiling his American Jobs Plan. “Line workers, electricians, and laborers — laying thousands of miles of transmission line; building a modern, resilient, and fully clean grid.”
But on Nov. 2, a coalition of environmentalists and their allies dealt a huge blow to Maine’s clean energy infrastructure. It’s difficult for me to comprehend why anyone who considers themself an environmentalist would oppose a renewable hydroelectric power transmission project, and I hope I’m not the only Mainer having a hard time reconciling that.
I understand that many folks voted the way they did on Election Day because of their feelings about Central Maine Power Co. They did so despite positive changes and improvements made by CMP, many of which International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 104 has been very pleased with and supportive of. But it’s clear that the company still has a lot of work to do to ensure their customers know that reliability and customer service will continue to improve, and our union has been and will continue to be part of this process moving forward.
But millions of people around the United States are already working in our clean energy economy and building our clean energy future. That’s why labor unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 104, Maine AFL-CIO, and other business groups here in Maine supported the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line. While these groups don’t see eye to eye on every issue that challenges our state, together we agreed on the overwhelming evidence that points in the direction of the New England Clean Energy Connect being good for our environment, our economy, our workforce and our state.
No matter how you might feel about CMP, we still need to recognize that feeding the anti-transmission line fervor is harmful to our state and our workforce. We don’t need to choose between improving electricity reliability or meeting the competitive challenges of the 21st century; we don’t need to choose between protecting our environment or reducing our carbon emissions to stave off the climate crisis. We can, and we must, do all the above.
That’s what the NECEC would do. That’s one of the many reasons why we have supported it. And that’s why my union is joining the project developers in their legal fight to keep the project moving forward.
In order to add more and more renewable energy onto our grid from hydro, wind and solar, we need to build transmission lines to carry this cleaner electricity from where it is generated to the consumers who will use it. Whether it’s a project like the NECEC that followed the rules, got the necessary approvals and invested millions in construction, or an energy project just getting off the ground in a different part of the country, there will always be forces that resist the kind of change that’s needed to meet this challenge head-on. That’s because switching to renewable energy means changing the energy generating business model.
We have a lot of work to do to achieve our economic and environmental goals in Maine, and I fear efforts to block the NECEC will have sweeping unintended consequences making it nearly impossible for us to do either. Clean energy sources like hydropower, wind and solar won’t just connect to the grid on their own. We need to act and invest today so we can have a cleaner, more secure future. Simply allowing the NECEC to be killed off would handcuff us in the short term, and it would threaten other major clean energy projects in the longer term.
With so much of this project already built by union workers who want to keep earning a good wage in their home state, we refuse to just give up without a fight. We need to give ourselves a chance to reduce carbon pollution and grow our economy at the same time. Despite what some in the environmental movement would have you believe, it’s possible to do both.