Mainers are preparing to file a petition against a proposed power transmission line through the western part of the state.
“The Central Maine Power corridor proposal remains one of the most controversial projects that Maine people have seen come to the state in a long time,” Pete Didisheim, senior director of advocacy at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told The Center Square.
Known officially as the New England Clean Energy Connect, the project aims to bring hydro power generated in the Canadian province of Quebec to end users in Massachusetts.
The council sponsored a poll this year that showed 72 percent of Mainers oppose the project, Didisheim said, mainly due to its environmental impact.
“It would require a 53-mile transmission corridor through western Maine forestland,” Didisheim said. "This is a mountainous, contiguous forest, and the transmission line would cross hundreds of streams and wetlands, cut through wildlife habitat, and is almost certainly going to damage the brook trout habitat that sportsmen are very agitated about."
Central Maine Power, in a statement after it gained a key approval in April from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, noted that such projects inevitably have both positive and negative aspects, but argued that in this case the positives were more significant.
“Addressing the twin challenges of climate change and energy affordability will require a sustained, regional commitment to action,” said Doug Herling, president and CEO of Central Maine Power. “The need for progress should always be weighed against the impacts and benefits of every project, and the NECEC is no exception. In this case, we believe the Commission gave due consideration to all perspectives, and as this decision shows, the balance strongly favors our project.”
While opponents have seized upon the fact that the power transmitted through the proposed lines would not go to Maine residents and businesses, the PUC in its April decision said that adding an additional power source to the energy grid for New England as a whole would indirectly benefit Maine.
"In addition to important enhancements to [Maine's] electric system reliability, 1,200 MW of hydroelectric generation injected into the New England region should help to partially mitigate ongoing fuel security concerns in Maine and the region," the PUC said in a statement.
Nearly two dozen communities have come out against the project, mainly towns in Franklin and Somerset counties near where the corridor would be built.
“I can’t think of another time in my 23 years here when a proposal has triggered this type of backlash,” Didisheim said. “If you drive around the roads out in that area, you will see ‘No CMP Corridor’ signs in every yard. People are fed up with Central Maine Power.”
Residents of those areas have begun a citizen initiative process to gather signatures for a petition that would be submitted first to the Secretary of State, and then to the Maine Legislature.
“If they get the 63,000 qualifying signatures by the third week in January, the Secretary of State certifies it,” Didisheim said. "After consideration by the Legislature, they could adopt it as is, but more likely the proposal to overturn the project would then be on the ballot in November 2020.
“I think citizens will be fanning out across the state to gather signatures.”