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BOSTON – Regulators responsible for the unorganized territories of Maine on Wednesday gave their approval to the plan to deliver clean power from Hydro-Québec to the Massachusetts and New England grid via the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project, though an environmental advocacy group in the state cried foul.
The Maine Land Use Planning Commission, by a 5-2 vote, certified that the 145-mile transmission project of Central Maine Power Company, an Avangrid Inc. subsidiary, is an “allowed use” that “complies with all applicable land use standards.” Avangrid and CMP have said the $950 million NECEC project will provide an above-ground link between the electrical grids in Quebec and New England to provide cleaner and more reliable hydropower directly to a converter station in Lewiston, Maine, and into the regional power grid.
The decision “ignores the enormous harm that the proposed transmission line would have on the recreational experience, scenic character, and natural resources in Maine’s Western Mountains,” the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
“The evidence and testimony presented before LUPC made clear that this project would be a bad deal for Maine and cause irreparable damage to the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America. At every single opportunity to share public comments, Maine people showed up in force to voice their concern that the CMP corridor would forever change the North Woods and is incompatible with the existing scenic and recreational uses on which the region depends,” NRCM clean energy attorney Sue Ely said. “Mainers have made it clear they believe that with no verifiable reduction of carbon pollution the project is simply not worth the enormous damage that would be done to Maine’s forests and wildlife.”
Parent company Avangrid said it was pleased with the commission’s decision, and said that it was clear that its members “diligently studied the record and project testimony” before casting a vote.
“NECEC is vital to Maine’s future both environmentally and economically and we look forward to obtaining other necessary federal, state and municipal approvals and beginning construction on the clean energy corridor later this year,” Thorn Dickinson, Avangrid’s vice president of business development, said.
The project’s cost will be paid by Massachusetts utilities customers and Hydro-Québec, as Bay State utilities and Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration chose the project to help Massachusetts meet its statutory requirements to increase its renewable energy supplies.
After Massachusetts energy officials and utility executives dropped the state’s first choice of a transmission project to deliver hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts — the Northern Pass project through New Hampshire — due to regulatory opposition in New Hampshire, utility executives decided to negotiate long-term contracts with CMP and the NECEC project under a 2016 energy law.
From a clean energy standpoint, the NECEC would supplement the 800 megawatt Vineyard Wind I project that’s planned for 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, as well as the Mayflower Wind offshore wind project that’s slightly further in the future.
With its vote Wednesday, Maine’s Land Use Planning Commission determined that the transmission project “complies with all applicable sections of the Commission’s land use standards” and can move ahead to the next step in its regulatory journey.
NECEC still needs to receive the final approval of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection and others before it can be built and can deliver about 9.45 terawatt-hours per year of clean hydropower to the Bay State for 20 years.
If the project secures the permits it needs from Maine and the federal government, Massachusetts officials have said it could supply about 17 percent of the state’s electricity demand at a levelized price of 5.9 cents per kilowatt-hour and could reduce Massachusetts electric bills rates between 2 and 4 percent each year under contracts already approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.