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Cross-Border Project Hits Permitting Obstacle

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  • Jun 11, 2020

The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) says bringing hydropower from Canada would cause irreparable harm to Maine's economy and environment.

The project, which is planned to bring Canadian electricity along a 145 mile pipeline to the state's grid, is subject to an appeal. Permission was granted by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Now an appeal by the Natural Resources Council of Maine contends that the DEP lacked the authority to issue the permit.

Central Maine Power (CMP) is proposing to route the transmission line through Maine from Quebec to deliver power to Massachusetts. The NRCM contends that it will do ecological harm, damage undeveloped forests, impact wildlife, as well as hamper the growth of Maine's own renewable resources and green jobs. Some of the cable will go down an existing corridor, but 53 miles of it will necessitate clear-cutting virgin forest.

Local opposition to the project is growing, with 20 towns on the route voting to either oppose it or rescind their support. It may become a contentious issue in the November 2020 election.

The transmission lines could carry up to 1,200 megawatts of electricity from Canada’s Hydro-Quebec dam system to the New England grid, the end user being three Massachusetts utilities with 20-year contracts for power. The cost is estimated at $950 million. CMP is a subsidiary of Avangrid, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Avangrid’s majority owner is Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.

Financial advantages would accrue to the various parties – an estimated $60 million per year to CMP, $200 million to Hydro-Québec, consumers would benefit from lower electricity prices. So there are various stakeholders who have much to gain, opposed to a loose coalition of groups who believe that the environmental damage outweighs these factors. It is likely that this will involve litigation. At the very least the project will be on hold until the permitting issue is resolved and looks unlikely to deliver first power in 2022 as originally planned.

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Bob Meinetz on Jun 12, 2020

Another example of renewable energy's exorbitant land use requirements, for both generation and transmission, and their impacts on natural surroundings.

Proponents of powering the U.S. entirely with WWS (wind, water, and sunlight) imagine a nationwide network of high-voltage, DC transmission exporting electricity from windy areas in the Great Plains to coastal population centers; from sunny areas of the Southwest, to cloudy Midwestern cities. Theoretically, states in between will assent to hundreds of miles of new transmission corridors criss-crossing their landscape with nothing to gain from the intrusion.

Unmentioned is the unprecedented, multi-jurisdictional cooperation such a network would require. Who would be entrusted with its maintenance? What are the implications of Maine being dependent on a foreign country for its supply of electricity; of New York City, on Nebraska? Would Wyoming forego dependence, and burn cheap coal for electricity on its eastern border, leaving its downwind neighbors to deal with the toxic emissions?

For answers to these questions we need only look to Germany, where problems associated with the land use of renewables are coming to the fore. Both the size of the problems and their impacts are a fraction of what they will be in the U.S.:

"The industry group German Wind Energy Association (BWE) said growing resistance to new projects has become a veritable challenge for keeping wind power expansion in line with emissions reduction goals. New capacity additions dropped by over 50 percent in 2018 and plummeted even further in 2019, mainly due to projects that won renewable auctions in 2017 not having been realised as they still lack the necessary permits. But even obtaining a permit no longer creates legal certainty since most projects are contested by increasingly professional interest groups in court, the BWE says."

Limits to growth: resistance to wind power in Germany

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