Hydropower project faces more headwinds

Gloucester Daily Times

BOSTON — A plan to bring Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts to helps meet the state's renewable energy needs is facing more headwinds.

The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project, which is overseen by Central Maine Power Company, seeks to import up to 1,200 megawatts of electricity generated by Hydro-Québec’s dams.

The power would be delivered to Massachusetts along a yet-to-be-built, 145-mile transmission line through western Maine.

A 2016 law requires Massachusetts utilities to purchase hydropower and other renewables to address climate change and diversify the state's energy portfolio.

But opponents of the project in Maine are ramping up efforts to scuttle it with a referendum that's inching toward the November ballot. Several bills in the Maine Legislature also seek to derail the transmission line and require more public oversight of future transmission lines.

Meanwhile, a Maine judge ruled this week that the state didn't follow the law when it leased some public lands for the project. The ruling means the project could be sent back to the state Legislature for a two-thirds vote to approve the land leases.

Backers of the project say it will fill green power needs in Massachusetts and reduce regional carbon emissions that scientists say are contributing to a warming planet.

The project has cleared numerous regulatory hurdles, including state and federal environmental reviews.

Then President Donald Trump granted a permit allowing the transmission line to cross the Canadian border.

Maine Rep. Jared Golden has called on President Joe Biden's administration to "reevaluate" the project's permit.

Opponents say the project would carve through scenic swaths of untouched forest in the North Maine Woods and lead to a loss of jobs and recreational tourism.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts is scrambling to bring more hydropower into the state after its first choice for a project was ditched.

A proposed 192-mile transmission line through New Hampshire was rejected by state regulators in 2018 amid concerns it would impact property values and hurt the tourism industry.

In Massachusetts, state leaders face ambitious benchmarks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

This week, the Legislature passed a sweeping climate change bill that requires the state to meet incremental goals every five years to reach a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 before meeting the 2050 goal.

Gov. Charlie Baker supports key elements of the bill but rejected provisions in a previously approved version of the legislation that he argued could slow down the state's economy as it recovers from the pandemic.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]

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  • Sandra Howard
    published this page in News 2021-03-22 07:42:43 -0400