The decision may imperil the planned New England Clean Energy Connect corridor, intended to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Lewiston.
A state judge has vacated a lease of public land to Central Maine Power parent company Avangrid for part of its planned 145-mile electric corridor through western Maine, likely putting the entire project in peril.
Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy said in her ruling Tuesday that state public land officials failed to make a required finding that the lease would result in no reduction or substantial alteration to the public lands being leased and, therefore, the agreement was not valid.
The decision means corridor-builder New England Clean Energy Connect, or NECEC, will have to go back to the state to negotiate the lease of public land that will be used for part of the corridor, which would connect hydroelectric power generated in Quebec with the New England power grid in Lewiston. Most of the electricity being generated is intended for Massachusetts power customers, who are paying for the project.
The corridor project has been controversial, and a referendum question on the ballot in November will ask voters if they want to have all leases of public lands put before the Legislature, requiring a two-thirds vote for approval. The measure would be retroactive, meaning the Legislature would have to review and vote on any public land leases for the NECEC corridor project, which has received approval from regulatory bodies.
Avangrid did not have an immediate response to the decision, but critics of the project hailed Murphy’s ruling.
“Now, (Avangrid) will have no choice but to negotiate the terms of the public lease in an open and transparent way,” said Tom Saviello, the lead signer of the petition that put the referendum on the November ballot, in a statement.
“With this ruling, the entire CMP corridor is rightfully at risk,” Darryl Wood, a volunteer with the group No CMP Corridor, said in a statement. “CMP no longer has title right and interest for the full route, so if they continue to build it, it will be a powerline to nowhere.”