Next week on October 17, Central Maine Power (CMP) is holding its final public hearing on New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a proposed transmission line through Maine’s North Woods that would connect hydroelectric power generated by provincial utility Hydro-Québec to customers in Massachusetts. Though most Bowdoin students may not be aware of it, this project presents a considerable threat to a relatively undisturbed section of Maine’s forest, criss-crossed with wild streams and rivers, and it’s dangerously close to being approved in Augusta.
As an outdoorsman and someone who values our state’s wild places, I think this transmission line would be a big mistake. The proposed 53-mile-long extension to CMP’s existing corridor in Western Maine would run from the U.S.-Canadian border to The Forks and would cross Maine’s scenic boundary mountains and rivers as well as multiple points on the Appalachian Trail and the Kennebec River Gorge along the way. These features, which have for many years attracted countless hikers, anglers and whitewater enthusiasts with their rugged beauty, could soon be marred by a clear-cut, 150-foot wide corridor lined with 95-foot-tall towers.
The effects of such a corridor on the local environment would be markedly negative. Though CMP states that its project is designed to minimize negative environmental impacts, it admits that some “cannot be avoided.” According to a Natural Resources Council of Maine press release, the transmission corridor would impact 263 wetlands and 115 streams in total, many of them habitats for wading birds and trout. The existing corridor would also need to be widened by an average of 75 feet to accommodate the new lines. In total, 927 acres of forest would be clear-cut in this project, much of it through largely undisturbed and vulnerable wilderness—an action which could potentially pave the way for more development in the future.
Furthermore, this project’s implementation would put an undue burden on Maine. Though Massachusetts’s initiative to transition to renewable energy is admirable, the ways it has proposed to achieve this transition are not. Instead of prioritizing home-grown renewables, it has turned twice to its northern neighbors for help and only settled on Maine after New Hampshire rejected a similar proposal, known as “Northern Pass,” earlier this year. All of the power conveyed through the line would go to Massachusetts, not Maine, and would make it more difficult for local renewable energy generators to use the shared southerly sections for transmission. Even with CMP’s promises of job creation and payouts to towns along the corridor, this project would compromise Maine’s future in clean energy and would serve Massachusetts at our expense. Maine should invest in its own energy rather than once again surrendering its resources to the Commonwealth.
Lastly, I seriously doubt the integrity of the parties involved in this project. CMP is a subset of a Spanish corporation that has failed its customers in this state time and time again, and Hydro-Québec has dramatically altered Québec’s rivers and harmed the First Nations people that depend on them. Neither can confirm that the project will actually reduce emissions, as it will redirect power from customers in Upstate New York and Ontario, who may transition to different, less sustainable sources of energy as a result.
This project would affect all of us. Many of you have probably visited the North Woods on orientation trips and expeditions with the Outing Club, and many of you care deeply for climate justice. As current residents of Maine, I invite you to oppose NECEC by signing the petition on the website of the Natural Resources Council of Maine or attending next week’s hearing, scheduled for 5 p.m. on October 17 at the Public Utilities Commission, 101 Second Street, Hallowell, Maine. Though recent environmental news has been bleak, from Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s alarming report on climate change, we have a chance to make a difference right here in our state. Let’s preserve Maine’s environment and assert our independence from Massachusetts and greedy corporations. Let’s stop NECEC.