Public advocate backs power line; environment group opposed

HALLOWELL, Maine (AP) — A proposed transmission line across western Maine that would serve as a conduit for Canadian hydropower is “in the best interest” of state electricity customers thanks to incentives negotiated with Central Maine Power, the state’s public advocate said Thursday.
The state’s largest environmental advocacy organization, however, remains opposed to the 145-mile (230-kilometer) line.
“We don’t believe it provides a guarantee that it will reduce global greenhouse emissions,” staff attorney Sue Ely from the National Resources Council of Maine told state utility regulators on Thursday.
Central Maine Power’s proposed $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect would allow 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to reach consumers in Massachusetts to meet that state’s green energy goals.
On Thursday, several people weighed in on Central Maine Power’s proposal to sweeten the pot for Maine residents to win support. The Public Utilities Commission, which heard the testimony, will receive a recommendation from staff later this month before scheduling deliberations.
The utility is proposing $258 million in incentives that would boost the number of electric vehicle charging stations, subsidize heat pumps, improve rural high-speed internet, and help low-income customers.
Barry Hobbins, Maine’s public advocate, who represents the interests of utility customers, said that hard-fought negotiations with CMP and its corporate parent, Avangrid, yielded a proposal that’s “in the best interest of Maine ratepayers” as well as one that will address climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
“This is a long-term process to reduce our carbon footprint and an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often,” he said.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills initially balked at the proposal but came out in support two weeks ago thanks to the package of incentives.
The project was embraced by Massachusetts officials after New Hampshire regulators pulled the plug on the controversial Northern Pass project.
Much of the project calls for widening existing corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of wilderness in western Maine.
The renewable energy from Canada represents the equivalent of removing 40 percent of cars and trucks from Maine roads each year, said Angela Monroe of the governor’s energy office.
But the Natural Resources Council says the project would snuff out wind turbine and solar projects in Maine while harming the environment by crossing the Appalachian Trail, 263 wetlands and 115 streams, Ely said.