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Maine environmental board upholds permit for hydropower corridor

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)

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s citizen board on Thursday rejected the latest effort to stop a $1 billion power line, and the next hurdle for the project lies with the state Supreme Court.

The Board of Environmental Protection unanimously upheld the permit for the project, which would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the regional power grid. But the board did require some new stipulations such as conserving an additional 10,000 acres of land to offset the loss of wildlife habitat caused by construction in western Maine.

Supporters say the project would address climate change by removing carbon from the environment in a region that’s heavily dependent on natural gas for energy. Detractors said the environmental benefits are overblown, and that the project would destroy woodlands.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, a leading opponent of the project, expressed disappointment with the outcome.

Pete Didisheim, the environmental group's interim CEO, said after the vote that he remains hopeful that the state Supreme Court will uphold a referendum in which Mainers voted to reject the project.

“The next important action will come from the law court,” he said. “We hope they will uphold the will of the Maine people to terminate this project.”

Protesters hold signs outside the Augusta Civic Center where a state meeting on Central Maine Power's proposed hydropower corridor is taking place, July 20, 2022, in Augusta, Maine. Voters rejected the corridor in November. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
Protesters hold signs outside the Augusta Civic Center where a state meeting on Central Maine Power's proposed hydropower corridor is taking place, July 20, 2022, in Augusta, Maine. Voters rejected the corridor in November. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Developers said the project has cleared all regulatory hurdles and that they will review the new conditions imposed by the board.

“With the price of gas and oil spiking, the need for the clean energy corridor is even more evident today,” the New England Clean Energy Connect said in a statement issued after the vote.

Central Maine Power’s parent company and Hydro Quebec teamed up on the New England Clean Energy Connect project, funded by ratepayers in Massachusetts.

Most of the proposed 145-mile power transmission line would follow existing corridors, but a new 53-mile section was needed to reach the Canadian border.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection already granted a permit for the project in 2020, and much of the trees were cleared and poles were erected after other regulators signed off as well.

But DEP Commissioner Melanie Loyzim put the project on hold after the referendum, and the citizen board was required to hear appeals of the original permit brought by opponents.

Opponents have been seeking to kill the project either outright or through delays. Developers of the project contend they’ll miss a contractual deadline with Massachusetts utilities if the delays continue late into the summer, resulting in costly penalties.

The state Supreme Court, meanwhile, is expected to rule on two lawsuits in upcoming weeks. The court is considering the constitutionality of the referendum and the legality of a lease that allows a small portion of the power line to cross state land.

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