LEWISTON – The companies that want to see a new $1 billion transmission project to bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts call it a badly needed step to combat the climate crisis and ensure New England’s energy future.

Its critics, though, see it differently.

At a three-and-a-half hour public hearing Thursday called by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, dozens of foes fired off an array of insults for the proposal: a travesty, a bad deal, a monstrosity, a nightmare, a disaster and more.

Former state Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton said if it goes through, Maine will be the loser.

While Central Maine Power earns $5 million in monthly profits from the deal – and Hydro Quebec pockets billions for decades to come – the average Mainer, he said, would save enough “to buy a Whoopie pie once a month.”

At least 250 people showed up at the hearing at the Ramada Inn & Conference Center to weigh in on the project, including former Green Party presidential contender Jill Stein, who declared after four hours of listening that she loved seeing democracy in action.


The Corps of Engineers’ senior project manager, Jay Clement, said the testimony would be used to determine whether to issue a permit allowing the 145-mile project to move ahead with plans to impact wetlands and streams along the way.

State Sen. Brownie Carson, a Harpswell Democrat, said the Corps ought to require a much more comprehensive environmental impact study before taking any action.

He called the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect “one of the most destructive and controversial projects” he’s seen in the past four decades in Maine.

For Lewiston officials, it’s also a possible source of badly needed tax revenue.

Ed Barrett, the city administrator, said the $250 million converter station that would be erected in Lewiston to tie the new line into the existing electrical grid would add $6 million in annual property taxes, about 10% of what city takes in now.

That would help ease the burden for an economically challenged community, he said.


Lincoln Jeffers, the city’s director of economic and community development, said the environmental impact of the plan is negligible compared to its boost for a clean energy future.

But Bruce Gagnon of Brunswick called the project “a complete boondoggle” that won’t help the state cope with a looming “climate catastrophe” caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

There is no way the project can provide the climate benefits its proponents claim, said Sue Ely, climate and clean energy program attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

She said the project “will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions but will significantly harm Maine’s environment.”

Brad Hager, an earth sciences professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has a home in Mercer, said scientists have determined that hydro facilities such as the huge dams used by Hydro Quebec aren’t helpful in combating climate change.

Because they flood low-lying woodlands, he said, they destroy an alarming number of trees and create dangerous greenhouse gas emissions from submerged trees and disturbed soils.


One of its dams, he said, has twice the carbon footprint of coal. “This is hardly clean energy,” Hager said.

Gary Sutherland, a Hydro Quebec official, said his company offers “pure hydropower” and wind-produced energy for export to New England. He said it would the 1,200 megawatts that would flow through the proposed line would be entirely from green sources.

He said that’s the equivalent of taking 700,000 cars off the road.

“This is a major step toward decarbonizing,” Sutherland said, and won’t require building more energy creation infrastructure because there is already so much excess capacity in Quebec.

But there is a price to pay.

Critics fear the line will ruin priceless vistas in tourist-friendly areas of Maine, harm wildlife and fish, and slice through forests that ought to remain pristine. They bemoaned the loss of about a thousand acres of trees at a time when saving the atmosphere requires more, not fewer trees.


But the amount of trees eyed for removal amounts to less than 1% of the acreage cut down every year in Maine by its timber industry, proponents pointed out. It’s hardly the environmental threat critics claim, they said.

Foes of the project had a long list of possible hazards from the project.

Todd Towle, a registered Maine Guide and operator of Kingfisher River Guides, said he depends on the region’s woods and waters for his livelihood.

He said he’s concerned the proposed line will hurt brook trout in particular, a species he called “an iconic symbol of a healthy, clean water system” that thrives in Maine more than anywhere in the continental United States.

Cary Blake of Portland said she’s worried that people aren’t making rapid enough progress toward a clean energy future.

She said opponents of the project “shouldn’t be working every angle to kill” it.

“The time is now to wean ourselves off fossil fuels,” she said.

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