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Federal Judge Halts Work On Hydropower Project With Temporary Injunction

In this May of 2019 photo, power lines are seen in Pownal, Maine. A controversial 145-mile, billion-dollar power line would bring hydro-electricity from Canada into the state's regional grid to serve Massachusetts customers. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
In this May of 2019 photo, power lines are seen in Pownal, Maine. A controversial 145-mile, billion-dollar power line would bring hydro-electricity from Canada into the state's regional grid to serve Massachusetts customers. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Hours after the U.S. Department of Energy issued a critical permit Friday to begin construction on a major hydropower transmission project in Maine, a federal appeal judge stopped work on the project by issuing a temporary injunction.

The order came from the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in response to a lawsuit brought by the National Resources Council of Maine and the Appalachian Mountain Club, which said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had failed to require a full Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which will carry power from Quebec into New England.

The groups had lost a lower court decision asking for an injunction while they argued their case. Friday's order appears to halt construction only until the parties can argue their appeal: 10 days at least.

Earlier today, after three years of review, AVANGRID announced it had received the Presidential Permit from the U.S. Department of Energy for its New England Clean Energy Connect project. The permit was the last in a series needed for the project, which was planned in partnership with Hydro-Quebec.

The 145-mile transmission line, to be built on land owned or controlled by Central Maine Power, will eventually deliver 1,200 megawatts of power to the energy grid in Lewiston, Maine, with the $950 million cost of the project paid for by Massachusetts electric customers.

About two-thirds of the project area will follow existing power lines, while 53 miles of new corridor will be established. Project officials indicated Friday they have begun installing temporary access roads to prepare for the installation of the monopoles, but declined to specify where construction has begun.

"The NECEC is a strong and swift response to the climate urgency which, as the pandemic, is a challenge that has no borders," said Hydro-Québec president and CEO Sophie Brochu earlier today. "It will help bring down harmful emissions, while reliably powering homes and businesses with competitive, renewable energy."

With additional reporting from Maine Public Radio's Fred Bever 

This article was originally published on January 15, 2021.

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