A renewable energy project that will be built by Avangrid, Inc. and Central Maine Power Company to bring hydropower from Quebec to Maine and other parts of New England has received one of the last permits it needs before construction can begin.
In a news release issued Wednesday, Avangrid announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted its approval for the New England Clean Energy Connect Clean Energy Corridor. Issuance of a Presidential Permit that would allow the transmission line to cross the Canadian border is the only significant, independent, regulatory body permit left to obtain. The U.S. Department of Energy issues Presidential Permits.
“The Army Corps permit is a significant milestone because it clears the way for construction to begin in the coming weeks,” AVANGRID President, Robert Kump, said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to start construction on this critical renewable energy project so we can begin to deliver the numerous benefits including new local jobs, significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, millions of dollars in economic investment and incentives for Maine, and lower energy prices for all of New England. The NECEC is good for Mainers, good for our economy and good for our environment.”
Avangrid said its goal is to begin construction by the end of the year, but the company would not be more specific about the exact start date. Kump said the Clean Energy Corridor project will inject more than $570 million into the state’s economy, and result in the creation of 1,600 new jobs.
The Clean Energy Corridor, a 145-mile-long transmission corridor that would cut through about 53 miles of undeveloped forestland in western Maine, has already received permits from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the Maine Land Use Planning Commission and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Central Maine Power is owned by Avangrid.
Since the project was proposed, there has been ongoing opposition from citizens, towns and environmental groups concerned about the negative impact they believe the project could have on the environment.
The Army Corps conducted an environmental review of the project’s impact and published a report in July that was not made public until the Natural Resources Council of Maine obtained a copy through a Freedom of Information Act request. In its report, the Army Corps concluded that the transmission line would have no significant environmental impact.
But, just last month, three environmental groups – the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Sierra Club Maine – filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming the Army Corps failed to rigorously assess the transmission corridor project’s environmental impact.
“The Corps’ have failed in their duty to rigorously and fairly evaluate the long-standing harm the CMP corridor would inflict on the woods, waters and communities of Western Maine,” Natural Resources Council of Maine Staff Scientist Nick Bennett said in a statement issued Wednesday evening after Avangrid touted approval of the project by the Army Corps.
“The lack of transparency and close coordination with CMP throughout the process is especially troubling for a project of this magnitude with no proven benefit to the climate. Maine people deserve better,” Bennett said.
When asked for a response to Bennett’s criticism, an Avangrid spokesman deferred to statement issued last month by Jon Breed, Executive Director of Clean Energy Matters. Clean Energy Matters is a political action committee funded by CMP and Avangrid.
“After two years, millions of dollars, and more than a dozen attempts to use legal action to derail the Clean Energy Corridor, (the Natural Resources Council) and its allies have yet to succeed,” Breed said. “Their conduct is shameful.”
However, the lawsuit is not the only challenge the project is facing.
In September, an opposition group filed papers with the Secretary of State’s Office to launch a second effort to put a referendum on the ballot in November 2021.
Opponents previously collected more than 63,000 signatures for a “People’s Veto” referendum, but it did not make it onto the Nov. 3 ballot because it was determined to be unconstitutional. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the “People’s Veto” referendum can be used to nullify legislative actions, but not regulatory decisions by state agencies.
The second referendum calls for legislative approval of transmission lines longer than 50 miles and a ban on high-impact transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region. Both provisions, aimed squarely at the project, would be retroactive to Sept. 16, 2020.
No CMP Corridor in a statement issued Wednesday said that more than 200 volunteers collected about 23,000 signatures at 125 polling locations across the state on Tuesday.
“I believe strongly that the price of our democracy is eternal vigilance. The volunteers who showed up yesterday to protect the rights of Mainers are heroes in my book,” said former State Senator and Representative Tom Saviello, an opponent of the corridor. “Voters should decide whether the CMP Corridor is worth destroying our environment and our tourism industry.”
Sandi Howard is Executive Director of No CMP Corridor. She praised volunteers for making the effort to collect signatures her group says will protect “Maine’s cherished environment, tourism industry and beautiful landscape” from the project’s “devastating effects.”
“A majority of Mainers agree that the CMP Corridor is a bad deal for Maine. This has become the most unifying issue in Maine’s recent history with a majority of Mainers opposing this destructive project from all sides of the political spectrum,” Howard said.
“This new referendum is so broadly written that it could jeopardize other major renewable energy projects in Maine, including solar, wind and offshore wind projects,” Breed told the Associated Press last month.