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Opponents of a proposed transmission line through western Maine have started gathering signatures that would allow residents to vote on the project in the November 2020 election.

The New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project would bring power from Canada to Massachusetts.

“It would basically create an extension cord from Quebec to Massachusetts with no benefit to Maine,” Sandra Howard, the director of the “Say No to NECEC” group, told The Center Square. “It would bring large scale environmental damage to what is the largest intact forest east of the Mississippi.”

Several approval agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, still have to green light the project, but some residents want it stopped before it goes any further.

“Central Maine Power (CMP) has been making promises to towns along the corridor route that it would present tax benefits,” Howard said. “They did the same kind of discussion with towns with the MPRP (Maine Power Reliability Project), but they have not come to fruition.”

What CMP has told approval agencies about potential reduction of greenhouse gases is in direct conflict with that they are telling the public, Howard said. While one CMP executive has said the reason to support the corridor is climate change, Howard cited a letter from CMP attorney Matt Manahan to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in which he writes, “nowhere has CMP stated that the Project's purpose and need includes GHG emissions reductions."

Lynn St-Laurent, a spokesperson for Hydro-Québec, told The Center Square in an email that "the New England Clean Energy Connect is the project which can make the most significant contribution to lowering carbon emissions in the region."

"The NECEC will deliver [$1 billion] in jobs, taxes and other benefits in Maine, in the first decade," St-Laurent said. "This includes Hydro-Québec’s total contribution of [$170 million], which covers a range of climate conscious initiatives such as vehicle electrification. It also includes a benefit sharing mechanism."

St-Laurent said that the clean energy the project produces will have the same effect as removing 700,000 gasoline cars from the road and that the electricity coming from Canada will flow through the entire New England power grid, including Maine.

In April, after getting approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, CMP cited both the environment and energy affordability as reasons to support the project.

"Today’s decision confirms the New England Clean Energy Connect will deliver environmental, economic, energy security, and other benefits for Maine and for consumers throughout New England," said Doug Herling, president and CEO of Central Maine Power.

Early this summer, state lawmakers supported bills to further study the project.

“But the governor vetoed it, that’s what's led us going to this referendum initiative,” Howard said.

"Say No to NECEC" hopes to gather 80,000 petition signatures by Dec. 31. Those will first be presented to the secretary of state, and then to the Maine legislature. Given Mills’ support of the transmission line, Howard said, the most likely scenario is the proposal to overturn the project would go before voters as a ballot question next November.