A route through Vermont would pass under Lake Champlain and below ground along roads instead of through the Maine woods.
Mainers should not be deceived by the numerous ads, letters and op-eds claiming that the projected New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line has compelling environmental benefits and would help combat climate change. In fact, it’s bad for Maine and the environment.
Obviously, NECEC’s 100-foot towers set in a continuously maintained right of way the width of a football field will scar one of the most beautiful landscapes in New England. But beyond that, there is no assurance that the power crossing the proposed lines is not simply being “greenwashed.” Hydropower may be diverted from other Hydro-Quebec customers to go to Massachusetts while those existing customers will then receive substitute power generated by greenhouse gas emitting fossil fueled plants – a shell game that may do nothing to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions and could even increase them. These facts alone should be sufficient to reject their proposal.
Even if one accepts the claim that Hydro-Quebec will be wheeling clean power from Canada, however, what has been ignored is that there is a viable and environmentally superior alternative to get it to Massachusetts. That is because the utilities already have – and have had for several years – a fully permitted alternative that goes through Vermont. That route does not have the negative environmental impacts of NECEC, for it would be largely underground, first along the floor of Lake Champlain (using an ingenious trenching tool devised for laying undersea cables) and then underground across Vermont using existing roadways to a point in eastern Vermont where it would link up with existing transmission lines.
Why isn’t this alternative being pursued? The answer, of course, is money and who gets it. A route through Vermont, rather than Maine, won’t provide any financial benefit to CMP or Iberdola because they would not be involved. It would fall within the territorial jurisdiction of other utilities. Thus, if we simply follow the money, we will not be fooled. CMP, Iberdola and Hydro-Quebec are not really concerned with climate change, the environment or even jobs for Mainers. It’s all about their own profits and how much money they can send to Canada and Spain. The fact that they can afford to spend millions of dollars on a media blitz – using print and TV advertising, lobbying, social media and letters to the editor – actually demonstrates that this must indeed be a very lucrative deal for them.
What is particularly surprising is that not only would the Vermont route do much less environmental harm, it might also make more sense financially in the long run, for though it could cost more to build initially, it would be more reliable and cheaper to maintain. There would be no risk of major damage to overhead transmission lines from the severe ice storms likely to become more frequent in northern New England due to climate change. There would be much less right of way to maintain, and access for any needed repairs would be easier, for it will be along maintained roads or under open water. Reaching remote transmission lines in northern and western Maine in the middle of winter with large construction equipment is not easy or inexpensive. Moreover, some of the utilities’ increased construction expenses are self-inflicted, for by not utilizing a fully permitted route when it was first approved, they now have experienced several years of increased construction costs and spent millions of dollars on massive ad campaigns and lawyers trying to persuade regulators and the public to accept alternatives that are much more harmful environmentally. Had they started construction in Vermont when permits had initially been issued there, the power would probably already be in Massachusetts where ratepayers would be charged for it today.
Fortunately, it’s not too late to bring some good judgment and environmental consciousness to the fore. By voting yes in November on Question 1, already endorsed by over 80,000 Mainers, we can stop NECEC. Now is the time to take a stand and save an important part of Maine’s incredible environment. Yes, we need to do much more to fight climate change, but NECEC is not the answer. Don’t let CMP and its allies tell you otherwise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William G. Meserve is a retired lawyer who lives in Falmouth. He is a member of the Natural Resources Council of Maine board of directors and the Appalachian Mountain Club board of advisers.