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NECEC developers plan to start construction soon despite continuing opposition

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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  • Dec 28, 2020

The developers of the New England Clean Energy Connect expect to start work on the controversial transmission project soon, even though its opponents intend to keep trying to block it.

The developers said in a statement that they “… look forward to breaking ground in the coming weeks,” according to a Dec. 16 story by Dennis Hoey of The Portland Press Herald. They released the statement after U.S. District Judge Lance Walker denied a motion by three environmental groups to prevent work from beginning on the project until he fully considered the groups’ lawsuit challenging the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to issue a Clean Waters Act permit for it on Nov. 6. The developers still need to obtain a Presidential Permit from the Department of Energy for the project because it would bring energy over the U.S.-Canadian border.

The NECEC 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 electricity consumers in Massachusetts, which chose the project through a clean power solicitation. Avangrid, through subsidiaries, would build, own and operate the NECEC, whose major and most controversial component would be 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.

Sierra Club Maine, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Appalachian Mountain Club maintain that the part of the NECEC that would run through the new transmission corridor would “forever fragment the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America and perhaps the world.”

The groups’ attorney, Sue Ely, said Walker’s ruling doesn’t resolve their lawsuit, which will “continue to move forward regardless” of the judge’s decision.

In his ruling, Walker wrote that the groups had failed in their lawsuit to present evidence that any other agency, state or federal, shared their opinion that Army Corps of Engineers was incorrect when it found that the NECEC didn’t amount “to a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

As a result, he wrote, “I conclude it is unlikely plaintiffs will demonstrate that the Corps’ assessment is arbitrary or unreasonable.”

Avangrid and Hydro-Québec also recently won a smaller victory in the battle over the NECEC when a Maine state judge ordered that a group fighting the project must disclose its donors.

The Maine Ethics Commission in May issued a subpoena to Stop the Corridor, which gathered signatures in an unsuccessful attempt to get a referendum on the project on the ballot in the election last month, as part of its investigation as to whether the group qualified as a political action committee and therefore was required to disclose its donors.

Disclosure of the donors “will reveal to Maine people that this is not a grassroots effort," Newell Augur, an attorney for Clean Energy Matters, the political action committee started by Central Maine Power to support the NECEC, told WMTW Political Reporter Phil Hirschkorn.

Stop the Corridor’s effort to get a referendum on NECEC on the ballot was ruled unconstitutional by the Maine Supreme Court because the referendum could have reversed a ruling by state regulators, which the court said the state constitution doesn’t give referenda the power to do.

A group called Mainers for Local Power is trying to get a referendum on the ballot next year that would force the state legislature to approve or reject the project. The group has received nearly $4 million from three companies that own fossil fuel power plants in Maine: NextEra Energy, Vistra and Calpine. NextEra’s involvement in an effort to prevent additional hydropower from being brought into New England is somewhat ironic because the company is one of the world’s largest developers of renewable generation.

The NECEC is being fought in Canada, too.

A coalition of First Nations is challenging the Appalaches-Maine Interconnection project, which would bring hydropower to the Canadian border for the NECEC to transmit southward. The coalition said earlier this month that the Quebec Bureau of Public Hearings on the Environment admitted in a report that it was instructed by the Quebec Ministry of the Environment not to consider where the hydropower for the Appalaches-Maine Interconnection would come from.

“In so doing, the Ministry has ignored the constitutional rights of the First Nations” whose lands are the source of the hydropower, the Innu-Atikamekw-Anishnabeg Coalition said in a press release.

“The fact that the BAPE recognizes that it was not allowed to address the question of the origin of the electricity intended for New England via the NECEC strengthens the position of the Innu-Atikamekw-Anishnabeg coalition, in challenging the legitimacy of the [Appalaches-Maine Interconnection project] before the Canada Energy Regulator,” the coalition said.


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