Enviros push judge to block $1B hydropower line in Maine

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, January 3, 2021

Conservation groups in Maine are asking a federal judge to halt the development of a $1 billion transmission line considered central to efforts in New England to slash carbon emissions.

The 145-mile New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) line would bring Canadian hydropower into Maine and Massachusetts. Governors in the region hope the renewable power can help their states advance toward a mutual goal of carbon-neutral power supplies by 2050.

Developed by Central Maine Power Co., the local utility subsidiary of Avangrid Inc., the project has survived persistent opposition from conservationists, First Nations and fossil fuel-backed groups alike. A proposed referendum that could have revoked state permits for the project never made it onto the ballot in the November election. In early November, the Maine utility was awarded federal permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, clearing the way for construction to begin (Energywire, Nov. 5).

On Dec. 16, Judge Lance Walker of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine declined to stop work on the project. A broader legal challenge to the Army Corps permit is still pending (Energywire, Dec. 18).

On Monday, the three conservation groups that requested the work stoppage — the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Appalachian Mountain Club — appealed the judge’s decision. In a supporting memorandum, they argued that initial logging, ground-clearing and construction activities would cause “the greatest and most extensive harm” to the environment.

The groups proposed an injunction that would allow the developer to move forward with some construction while “maintaining the environmental status quo.”

The Army Corps signed off on environmental permits in November, leaving only municipal permits and the U.S. Department of Energy’s green light as the final hurdles for the project to clear.

In total, the NECEC would provide up to 1,200 megawatts of hydropower generated at reservoirs by Hydro-Québec. That’s the equivalent of about 17% of Massachusetts’ electricity demand.

In February, Central Maine Power created a wholly owned subsidiary to lead work on the transmission project.

Thorn Dickinson, CEO of that subsidiary, NECEC Transmission, LLC, confirmed that work was slated to begin on the project “in several weeks” and sought to tie the lawsuit to the fossil fuel industry’s resistance to the power line.

“This project is a significant step in meeting both Maine’s and New England’s renewable energy goals,” he added.