The Universal Notebook: New England Clean Energy (dis)Connect

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Yes, I drive a car that uses gas, heat my home with oil and consume as much electricity as the next 21st century American. So, no, I can’t get all holier than thou about energy consumption.

Still, I am opposed to Central Maine Power Co.’s so-called New England Clean Energy Connect proposal to build a $950 million transmission corridor through Maine to bring power from Quebec to Massachusetts.

For one thing, if Gov. Paul LePage is in favor of it, it’s probably a lousy idea. For another, there’s nothing in it for Maine except bribes.

Now that Northern Pass, a collaboration between Eversource and Hydro Quebec, has been denied permission to build a 192-mile electricity transmission corridor through New Hampshire, Hydro Quebec has gone to Plan B, a 145-mile transmission corridor through Maine, all so it can sell its electricity to the Boston market.

Thanks, but no thanks. This industrial transmission project should be DOA in Maine. There is no benefit to Maine and certainly none to the natural world, which under LePage and Trump might just as well no longer exist.

It took New Hampshire eight years to finally turn down the Northern Pass proposal on a 7-0 vote of the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee back on Feb. 1. Hydro Quebec wasted no time turning its sites elsewhere, hoping to do to Maine what it couldn’t do to New Hampshire.

I mean, come on, folks, if money-grubbing, tax-free, Live Free or Die NH didn’t want to be the high-tension go-between for Quebec and Massachusetts, why should we?

New Hampshire did all the ground work for us. After years of tortuous deliberations, hearings, meetings, protests, proposals and counter-proposal, regulators there unanimously voted to “deny the Application for a Certificate of Site and Facility, because the Applicant has failed to prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the Site and Facility, the Project, will not duly interfere with the orderly development of the region.”

In hopes of having its way with Maine, Hydro Quebec teamed up with our dearly beloved electric utility and seemed to think that throwing a lot of money around will buy Maine’s approval of its disorderly development scheme. CMP has proposed, for instance, $22 million in mitigation payments to conservation groups. Of course, that’s less than half the $50 million in energy assistance to low-income electric customers that CMP has promised to Massachusetts.

Where does CMP get all those give-away millions? Could it be from the same Maine ratepayers who are currently suing CMP for overcharging them in a billing boondoggle that has CMP under a cloud of suspicion just as it is trying to sell Mainers on the idea of being Quebec’s bitch.

To be fair to CMP, it is only proposing to build 53 miles of new transmission lines from Beattie Township through the Upper Moose River Basin to The Forks, where it would connect with an existing 92-mile power line to Lewiston. Opponents point out that the new power lines and expanding the existing corridor with taller transmission towers will erode the scenic quality of the Kennebec Gorge and the Appalachian Trail, which CMP parent company Avangrid wants to relocate anyway.

Protecting view sheds, forest landscapes and wildlife habitat are all important, but another key reason to oppose the New England Clean Energy Connect is that it’s dirty.

Perhaps you’ve noticed how energy dinosaurs think they can make an energy source acceptable just by adding “clean” to it, as in “clean coal?” Well, the electricity Hydro Quebec wants to sell in Massachusetts may be hydro-electric power, but it is not “clean” if you count the thousands of acres of First Nation land Hydro Quebec had to flood to create the impoundment waters to generate that electricity. Then there’s the carbon sequestration that is lost when woods are drowned and the mercury that soils and plants release into impoundment waters.

At the moment, we are caught in a backward death spiral created by men like Paul LePage and Donald Trump, who deny climate change, fail to protect the natural environment and promote fossil fuels over renewable energy sources. Electricity generated by wind and solar systems, by the way, cannot be carried on the proposed transmission lines.

But we are all complicit in this environmental entropy. We screw in a few energy-efficient light bulbs, turn the thermostat back to 65, and drive a car that gets 40 mpg instead of 20 and think we are being responsible stewards of the natural world. But we’re not.

That’s why the most compelling reason to oppose the New England Clean Energy Connect is that we simply should not be trying to bring more energy to urban America. We should all be learning to live with less.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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