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Maine environmental regulators re-examining tree cutting for NECEC

image credit: © Hydro-Québec
Peter Key's picture
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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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After saying that the clearing of trees for the New England Clean Energy Connect was being done in compliance with the permit for the controversial transmission project, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is reexamining the matter.

Maine Public reported that Jim Beyer, the DEP official overseeing work on the NECEC, had sent an email asking Roger Merchant, a Bangor-based certified forester who opposes the project, for more specifics about violations of the permit Merchant said he’d spotted.

Merchant said he’d inspected several sections of the corridor in the Coburn Mountain area and found that they’d been cut as wide as 104 feet, almost double the permitted 54 feet.

"The results of your measurements suggest the cleared area is between 86 feet and 104 feet wide," Beyer wrote in his email to Merchant.

A group of NECEC opponents have submitted that email and other documents to the DEP, asking work on the project be halted until DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim reviews the information.

Thorn Dickinson, the president and CEO of NECEC LLC, the Avangrid subsidiary building the project, told Maine Public that the request to halt work on the NECEC “is the latest in an endless string of baseless attempts by project opponents to spread misinformation about the project.”

The NECEC is being built in response to a clean power solicitation from the commonwealth of Massachusetts and would transport hydropower generated by Hydro-Québec, whose dam is pictured above, from the Canadian border 147 miles through Maine and into the New England grid.

The most controversial part of the project is the 53-mile-long corridor being cut through forest being logged for timber in western Maine, which is where Merchant took his measurements. It and 94 miles of an existing transmission corridor owned by Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power would be the sites of the high-voltage direct-current line that’s the project’s backbone. The NECEC also would include upgrades to 50 miles of existing alternating current transmission lines and the construction of a new DC-to-AC converter substation in Lewiston, Maine, and a new 345 kilovolt substation in Pownal, Maine.

The project’s opponents have succeeded in getting a ballot question about the NECEC before voters in November, but a Maine legislator has filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court that seeks to have the question split into three separate questions, according to the Associated Press.

In response to Hydro-Québec’s spending in opposition to the question and a previous one that never made it before voters, the Maine legislature last month passed a bill that would prohibit foreign companies from spending money on ballot question campaigns, but Maine Gov. Janet Mills vetoed it, according to the Bangor Daily News.

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