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$1B hydropower project’s fate rests with Maine supreme court

The New England Clean Energy Connect would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower, or enough electricity for 1 million homes.

Power utility lines are seen, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Pownal, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo, File


PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A stalled $1 billion energy corridor aimed at bringing Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid could be given new life — or spiked for good — by the state’s high court.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court was set to hear arguments Tuesday on a pair of cases focusing on the high-profile project.

Utilities behind the effort sued to overturn a November statewide referendum on constitutional grounds. Another lawsuit focuses on a lease allowing transmission cables to cross a 1-mile segment of state land.

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

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

Supporters say bold projects are necessary to battle climate change and that the electricity is needed in a region that’s heavily reliant on natural gas, which can cause spikes in energy costs in the winter.

Most of the proposed 145-mile (233-kilometer) power transmission would be built along existing corridors, but a new 53-mile (85-kilometer) section must be cut through the woods to reach the Canadian border.

Central Maine Power’s parent company and Hydro Quebec teamed up on the project, and workers were already clearing trees and setting poles when the governor asked for work to be suspended after Mainers voiced their disapproval in a statewide referendum. A state regulatory agency later suspended the permit but that decision can be reversed depending on the outcome of the litigation.

The utilities contend the referendum was unconstitutional because it retroactively overturned a project that was properly permitted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Land Use Planning Commission, Maine Public Utilities Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A second case arose after judge has called into question a lease for a 1-mile stretch of the corridor over state land.

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