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NECEC construction resumed after court decision, stopped due to bats

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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  • Jun 2, 2021

The New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project landed a big court victory last month, but work on the part of it that involves the cutting of a new corridor through western Maine is stopping for two months to protect an endangered bat.

Additionally, Maine state regulators ruled that work on the new corridor was being done according to specifications despite a claim by project opponents to the contrary, and the head of the Avangrid subsidiary that is building and would own and operate the NECEC said that since the start of the year Maine has received $5.8 million of the $258 million it was promised for the project.

Meanwhile, up north, the transmission project that would feed power into the NECEC was approved by Canada’s top energy regulator.

The NECEC would bring 1,200 megawatts of hydropower generated by Hydro-Québec, whose dam is pictured above, from the Canadian border into southern Maine where it would be fed into the New England grid for electricity consumers in Massachusetts, which chose the project through a clean power solicitation.

Avangrid's NECEC LLC subsidiary would build, own and operate the NECEC, whose major and most controversial component is a 147-mile-long high voltage direct current power line that would run through a new corridor that would be cut through forest being logged for timber in western Maine for 53 miles and then through an existing transmission corridor owned by Avangrid’s Central Maine Power subsidiary for 94 miles. The project would also 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 new corridor is the subject of many of the battles over the project, including the one in which the companies behind the NECEC scored a win last month.

The win involved a federal lawsuit brought against the Army Corps of Engineers by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club. The groups claimed in the lawsuit that the Army Corps didn’t sufficiently review the NECEC’s potential environmental impact and sought an injunction against the part of the project that involved cutting the new corridor. When the injunction wasn’t granted, they appealed and were granted a temporary injunction while the appeals court studied their motion. On May 13, the appeals court vacated the temporary injunction, allowing work to resume on the corridor, according to a story by Erin Keller for News Center Maine.

While the lifting of the injunction allowed NECEC LLC and contractors working for it to resume clearing trees for the new corridor, they were only able to do so for about two-and-a-half weeks, thanks to the northern long-eared bat.

The bat, which lives in trees rather than caves, has been designated as threatened by the federal government and endangered by the government of Maine because its population has been decimated by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome that has killed from 90 percent to 95 percent of all bats in Maine. Its pups are too young to fly in June and July, so the permit issued for the NECEC by the Army Corps last November prohibits tree clearing in those months, according to a story by David Sharp of the Associated Press.

NECEC LLC said in a statement that it “has been aware of this prohibition since the beginning of the federal consultation and permitting process and will comply with it.”

To bring power to the Canadian border to be fed into the NECEC, Hydro-Québec plans to build a transmission line called the Appalaches–Maine Interconnection. That has garnered opposition from Canadian First Nations but on May 21, the Canada Energy Regulator issued the permit authorizing its construction and operation, according to a Hydro-Québec press release in which the company said it would begin working on the project “in the coming weeks” and is planning to have the line in service in 2023.

In the little more than two weeks that that NECEC LLC and its contractors had to work on the new transmission corridor for the NECEC, they managed to run into controversy. A group opposing the NECEC called No CMP Corridor claimed they had cleared a 98-foot-wide corridor, nearly double the allowed 54 feet. (The group’s name includes CMP because that company began work on the NECEC before Avangrid formed NECEC LLC and transferred responsibility for the project to it.) The Maine Department of Environmental Protection said Friday that the work on the corridor complied with the project’s permit, according to a story by Kevin Miller for the Portland Press Herald.

As part of their effort to make the NECEC more appealing to Mainers, Avangrid and Hydro-Québec agreed to pay $258 million to the state of Maine over the next few decades, according to a story by Samantha York for News Center Maine. The companies have paid $5.8 million this year, according to NECEC LLC’s President and CEO, Thorn Dickinson. The largest chunk of that, $1.75 million, went to a rate relief fund, with $3 million being split equally between a fund to expand broadband access, a fund to speed the adoption of heat pumps and a fund to speed the adoption of electric vehicles. Maine is expected to receive $10 million from the project by the end of the year.

Whether that will be enough to get Mainers to accept the project remains to be seen. A referendum on it is scheduled to appear on the ballot in November. 








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