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Company stops work on $1B transmission line after Maine vote

Heavy machinery is used to clear an existing Central Maine Power electricity corridor that has been widened to make way for new utility poles. (Robert F. Bukat/AP File)
Heavy machinery is used to clear an existing Central Maine Power electricity corridor that has been widened to make way for new utility poles. (Robert F. Bukat/AP File)

A utility company is suspending construction on a $1 billion power line at the request of Maine’s governor after she certified election results Friday in which residents firmly opposed the project.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills had urged leaders of the New England Clean Energy Connect Transmission LLC to stop construction on the 145-mile (233-kilometer) project until legal challenges are resolved.

Thorn Dickinson, president and CEO of NECEC, said work will be temporarily halted until a judge rules on a request for a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit contending the referendum was unconstitutional.

“This was not an easy decision. Suspending construction will require the layoff of more than 400 Mainers just as the holiday season begins,” Dickinson said in a statement Friday evening.

Mills supports the project but said she also supports “the rule of law that governs our society and the will of the people that informs it.”

Funded by Massachusetts ratepayers, the project would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid. That’s enough electricity for 1 million homes.

Critics said the project is damaging the woods and changing the character of a part of western Maine with little if any benefit for its residents.

Supporters said big solutions like the project are needed to remove carbon from the environment and address climate change. They also contend the flood of electricity would stabilize electricity prices in New England.

Maine utility regulators this week approved electric rate increases approaching 90% for most Maine residents starting Jan. 1.

Utilities supporting and opposing the project poured more than $90 million into the battle ahead of the referendum, making it the most expensive election in Maine history.

Mills certified the outcome of election, as well as other election results, including the passage of a “right to food” constitutional amendment and $110 million transportation bond issue. That means the power line referendum results become law in 30 days.

The Maine proposal for a transmission line mostly followed existing utility corridors. But a new section needed to be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of woods to reach the border.

Construction started this year on the New England Clean Energy Connect, so miles of trees already have been cleared.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection plans to hold a final public hearing Monday whether to suspend or halt the permit for the project following the referendum vote.

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