Hydro-Québec makes one last effort to revive stalled power line project across Maine

Hydro-Québec will make one last effort to try to save a controversial transmission line project in Maine’s highest court on Tuesday.

Maine residents canceled the project after 59 percent voted to ban construction of the 233-kilometre waterway in a referendum last November. The project, known as New England Clean Energy Connect Transmission LLC (NECEC), has been suspended since the historic vote, at the request of the Governor of Maine.

Now, Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments from various parties about the constitutionality of the referendum itself, as well as to challenge a lease on public lands. Anyone can jeopardize the project.

This may be the last chance for supporters to get approval for the project, which will see Quebec supply Massachusetts with renewable energy for 20 years and is estimated to generate $10 billion for Hydro-Québec during that time period.

Hydro-Québec spokesman Lynn Saint Laurent said Quebec Crown and the parent company of its US partner, Central Maine Power (CMP), would argue that the referendum unfairly revokes permits granted by executive and judicial authorities, which have already resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses.

“[The referendum] “He is seeking retroactively to revoke those licenses and stop those projects, so we’re going to prove that unconstitutional,” St-Laurent said. “Every permit was obtained after a rigorous process.”

CMP owner Avangrid spent about $450 million last year to clear 86 percent of the driveway in Maine and install 120 buildings, she said, as CMP has begun construction “based on good faith” for those permits.

Orlando DeLogo, professor emeritus of law at the University of Maine School of Law, said that canceling a project that began several years ago, especially once construction has begun, violates the constitutional prohibition of laws retroactively.

He said the initiative could not hold for several reasons, one of which was that its language would amend the country’s constitution to consider similar future projects, effectively changing the constitution – doing “what is expressly prohibited”.

More than a thousand pages of memoranda have been submitted to the court by experts and various parties.

Back in November, signs denouncing the Hydro-Québec project as an “alien invasion” were erected on a property near Bingham, Maine. (Alexander Panetta/CBC)

‘Bad deal’ for Mainers, says opponent

Meanwhile, energy companies, conservationists and other critics are calling for the court to uphold the referendum’s validity, and some say the CMP has launched its work, aware of the risks of the challenges.

“The permits have been subject to appeal,” said Tom Savillo, a well-known opponent of the project and a former Republican senator from Maine. “If you apply, you proceed at your own risk.”

He said the project is a “bad deal” for Mainers as the state is expected to see a total of $258 million in economic benefits, while Hydro-Québec and CMP will see billions.

Opponents have long considered the project to offer too little benefit given the damage done to their state’s boreal forests – “a valuable place for miners,” Saveello said.

The project will cut a new route from the Quebec border through 85 kilometers of the Maine Forest, before extending an existing waterway for another 148 kilometers and connecting to the network. (Scudt McNally/CBC)

The planned project will transmit 1,200 megawatts of electricity via a 336-kilometre high-voltage transmission line between the mines of Thetford, Kew, and Lewiston, Maine. Of the 233 kilometers planned on the US side, 85 kilometers will cut through a forested area. The clearing was already underway at the time of the referendum.

According to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 3.6 million metric tons per year — the equivalent of taking 700,000 cars off the road.

However, the state’s largest environmental advocacy group, the Maine Natural Resources Board, has expressed a great deal of skepticism about the true environmental benefits of hydropower in Quebec, questioning whether the project will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Watch | Drone footage showing deforestation in Maine along the project line:

Drone for Maine Hydraulic Project

Cutting the forest path is in full swing, as evidenced by drone footage captured in June in Johnson Mountain, Maine, provided by project opponents with permission from the Yes on 1 campaign. 0:50

Another obstacle

The referendum result is the latest legal obstacle to the project. In August, the state judge’s verdict That the project lacks authority to cross a 1.6 kilometer stretch of public land in West Forks, Somerset County.

The judge said the lease, which the Maine Office of Public Lands issued to the CMP in 2014, was invalid due to a provision in State constitution It states that public lands cannot be substantially changed without a vote of two-thirds of both houses of the legislature.

The Supreme Court will also hear the case on Tuesday.

Although it gets less attention, this controversy alone could derail the entire project. Bypassing the land will require new approvals and, accordingly, additional time and cost. In the meantime, NECEC must be operational no later than August 2024, according to the contract with Massachusetts.

Signs outside Farmington, Maine, in support of the Hydro-Quebec-led project. (Alexander Panetta/CBC)

For Hydro-Québec, this challenge is just a way for opponents to sabotage their plans. “Oppositions have challenged all permits for the past three years,” a Saint Laurent spokeswoman said.

“The strategy of the opponents, whether it be gas companies or groups funded by gas companies, has been to try to disrupt the project in a wave of legal challenges.”

Hydro-Québec revealed in its 2021 annual report that it could lose $536 million if the project is dropped, not to mention a potential $10 billion loss in revenue over 20 years.

This does not include the $20 million spent in recent years lobbying and publicizing the project or the $46 million loss in 2019 after the failure of its first project to export energy to the United States via New Hampshire, which had the same goals.

“Should [this project] If it doesn’t work, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said, adding that the utility company was confident in its case.

The court is expected to issue its decision this summer.

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