Local

Mainers have their say on $1B electric transmission line

The New England Clean Energy Connect would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid.

Robert F. Bukaty
More than $66 million was spent on the battle over the $1 billion project ahead of the referendum on Tuesday. Robert F. Bukaty


Maine voters are weighing in Tuesday on a 145-mile (233-kilometer) conduit for Canadian hydropower that’s billed as either a bold step in battling climate change or an unnecessary destruction of woodlands.

More than $66 million was spent on the battle over the $1 billion project ahead of the referendum on Tuesday. But the statewide vote won’t be the final word. Litigation over the project will continue long after the votes are counted.

Funded by Massachusetts ratepayers, the New England Clean Energy Connect would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid.

The project would remove carbon from the atmosphere and stabilize electricity rates across the entire region while helping Massachusetts reach its clean energy goals, supporters said.

Advertisement:

Critics contended the environmental benefits are overstated, and that it would forever change the forestland.

It was the most expensive referendum in Maine history with more than $66 million spent on the battle this year. Critics of the referendum said it was bad public policy to retroactively vote down a project that already was approved by multiple state and federal agencies.

“A ballot question that retroactively denies an approval that was issued through a legal and appropriate process over a year ago and on which people have pursued and invested money in construction based on the approvals that they received sets a really difficult precedent,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said at a State House press conference Monday, according to Commonwealth Magazine.

Three-quarters of trees already have been removed for the project, which calls for a transmission line that mostly follows existing utility corridors. But a new section needed to be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of woods to reach the Canadian border.

The project has divided the environmental community and made for strange political bedfellows with some owners of fossil fuel-powered plants aligning themselves with environmental opponents.

The political parties also were divided with some Republicans and Democrats opposing it while current Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage both support the project.

Advertisement:

“Truly electrifying big pieces of what is currently a fossil-fuel-based economy isn’t going to work if people aren’t willing to accept transmission capacity to make that happen. You can’t get from here to there without transmission capacity,” Baker said. “And I think that’s the reason why Paul LePage and Janet Mills, people who don’t agree on very much, absolutely agree that this project should move forward.”

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com