Transmission line foes press for full environmental review

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LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Opponents of Central Maine Power's proposed $1 billion transmission project that would bring Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid urged the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday to perform a full environmental impact statement, one that CMP says would delay a final decision by a year.

Critics packed a public hearing on the 145-mile (230-kilometer) power transmission project, which would serve as a conduit for 1,200 megawatts of electricity from Hydro Quebec. They questioned the environmental benefits, decried the cutting of trees and argued that the project would hurt homegrown renewable projects.

“It's bad for Maine's North Woods. It's bad for Maine's renewable energy. And it's not going to help us at all with our climate crisis,” said Sue Ely, attorney for The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which is opposed to the project.

The environmental organization contends CMP's New England Clean Energy Connect deserves the same level of scrutiny that similar projects received in New Hampshire and Vermont, where the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers conducted full environmental impact statements.

“There is no reason that Maine shouldn't get the full look that New Hampshire's and Vermont's projects did,” she said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden called on the Army Corps to hold a hearing on the project, which has met with stubborn resistance in many communities along the proposed path. Critics of the project hope the Army Corps will require a look at alternative routes for the corridor.

The project was conceived to help Massachusetts meet its clean-energy goals, and Massachusetts ratepayers would bear the full cost.

Most of the transmission line would follow established utility corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of wilderness on land that CMP owns in western Maine.

Supporters say there will be benefits for all of New England by suppressing electricity rates and reducing carbon emissions by the equivalent of more than 700,000 vehicles.

Hydro Quebec, which would supply the electricity, was present at the hearing and vowed to play a bigger role in the public discussion.

Spokeswoman Lynn St. Laurent said that the utility believes Mainers “are not getting the full story about the clean energy.”

“This is a decision that's extremely important in the context of the climate urgency that we face. We don't have decades to get this right. If you look at the projects that are available in the Northeast, this is the most significant one in terms of impact,” she said before the meeting.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has given its green light to the project. But the Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission won't rule until the new year. The Army Corps of Engineers must also sign off on the project.

Col. William Conde, commander and district engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the agency already has a good understanding of the environmental impact. He said he'll decide in a few months whether a full environmental impact statement is needed.

“We have a process. We've been doing it a long time. We issue about 2,500 permits in New England every year. We follow that process and that process will lead us to a decision,” he said.