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Construction on NECEC begins as fights over it continue

image credit: © Hydro-Québec
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I've been a business journalist since 1985 when I received an MBA from Penn State. I covered energy, technology, and venture capital for The Philadelphia Business Journal from 1998 through 2013....

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  • Feb 11, 2021

The Avangrid subsidiary responsible for building, owning and operating the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project has begun construction on the two segments of it that don’t involve clearing a new corridor through 53 miles of forest in western Maine.

NECEC Transmission LLC said Tuesday it had started work on segments 2 and 3 of the project, which would carry 1,200 megawatts of hydropower generated by Hydro-Québec from the Canadian border to southern Maine where it would be fed into the New England grid for Massachusetts consumers.

After a federal appeals court judge on Jan. 15 granted a temporary injunction blocking work on the new corridor, which is segment 1 of the project, NECEC Transmission had crews that were ready to begin work on it move to the other two segments instead. The company said Monday that workers started plowing snow and laying mats to create access to construction areas last month.

The injunction was granted in a lawsuit brought by Sierra Club Maine, the National Resources Council of Maine and the Appalachian Mountain Club, which said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had failed to require a full Environmental Impact Statement for the project prior to issuing a Clean Waters Act permit for it in November. It came on the same day that NECEC Transmission announced it had received the last permit it needed for the project, a Presidential Permit from the Department of Energy, which is required for all projects that involve energy being brought across an international border to or from the U.S.

Crews working for NECEC Transmission erected the first poles for the project on Tuesday, according to a report by David Sharp for The Associated Press.

NECEC Transmission has some serious financial motivation for getting the project built as quickly as it can. Its contract with the company doing the clearing work calls for it to pay that company, Northern Clearing, $690,000 a week to cover equipment expenses for any delays, according to a story by Tux Terkel for The Portland Press Herald.

Additionally, the project’s power purchase agreement with Massachusetts utilities contains penalties for not completing the project on time. The agreement’s in-service date already has been pushed back from December 2022 to May 2023.

Finally, the more work that NECEC Transmission gets done on the project, the better its chances for successfully arguing that the project has attained vested rights, David Littell, a former Maine Public Utilities Commission member and head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, told Terkel.

“The idea is that if you start construction in good faith after receiving validly issued permits, the permitting authorities can’t revoke the permits,” said Littell, a Portland, Maine, environmental attorney.

NECEC Transmission may need to show the project has attained vested rights if a political action committee succeeds in its effort to get a referendum that would affect the NECEC on the ballot in November.

The No CMP Corridor PAC said last month that more than 100,000 signatures supporting its effort were delivered to Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. (CMP stands for Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power, which has been involved in trying to get the NECEC built.)

The referendum would require any high-impact transmission line longer than 50 miles to be approved by the state legislature; prohibit the building of high impact transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region; and reaffirm a requirement in the Maine constitution that the legislature approve leases that cross public lands if they significantly alter the use of those lands. It also would make the first two items retroactively effective to Sept. 16, 2020 and the third item retroactively effective to Sept. 16, 2014, which would put the kibosh on the project.

Bellows is expected to decide later this month whether enough of the signatures are valid to get the referendum on the ballot, according to a story by Dan Carrigan for News Center Maine.

Calpine Corp., NextEra Energy Resources LLC and Vistra Corp., all of which own fossil fuel power plants in Maine, also are battling the NECEC. The companies on Monday filed an amicus brief in the environmental groups’ case, according to a Law 360 article republished on No CMP Corridor’s website.

In their brief, the companies said the greenhouse gas reduction estimates cited by the project’s developers are illusory and unverifiable and a lower court shouldn’t have relied on them when deciding whether to approve a preliminary injunction on construction of the NECEC. As I pointed out in a post last December, the three companies have given nearly $4 million to Mainers for Local Power, another political action committee supporting the ballot referendum.

Canadian First Nations also oppose the project.

In an opinion piece in The Bangor Daily News last month, Lucien Wabanonik, a former grand chief of the Anishnabeg Nation Tribal Council, wrote that the generation of the power that would be shipped over the NECEC “has cost my people everything.”

Hydro-Québec’s “dams and their associated infrastructure have robbed us, not only of our resources, but also of our culture and our way of life, which is no longer sustainable,” Wabanonik wrote. “HQ has devastated our socioeconomic balance. Instead, we live an idle life of deep poverty reliant on social transfer payments.”





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