We care deeply about Maine’s forests. Throughout our careers, we have worked to protect the North Woods of Maine in leadership positions at the Maine Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy, and at the Bureau of Public Lands and as Maine State Economist, respectively. Ensuring a healthy future for the Maine Woods and the animals and plants it nurtures requires that we recognize their biggest threat — climate change.

Tom Rumpf

Lloyd Irland

There is no magic bullet, no perfect solution to preventing the devastating effects of climate change. We must take some big steps to address it, and we must do it soon. Any serious effort to reduce carbon pollution will require some tradeoffs.

We have carefully weighed the benefits and impacts of the New England Clean Energy Connect and believe it is one important step to immediately begin reducing the emissions causing climate change. The hydroelectric power from this project will help us decarbonize the New England electric grid by removing three million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year being produced by fossil fuel-generated power sources, ultimately helping us protect the forests that are a part of Maine’s identity and so vital to the health of our state.

To anyone who would question whether hydropower will help us drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we’d like to share this: A recent scientific study by an international life cycle analysis center compared the environmental impacts of various types of power generation around the world. It found greenhouse gas emissions from Hydro-Québec’s hydropower reservoirs were among the lowest for power generation options — about the same as wind and less than solar.

In addition, following a thorough 18-month review, including input from all stakeholders, multiple public hearings and the findings of fact by its career staff, the Maine Public Utilities Commission unanimously authorized the New England Clean Energy Connect, citing “reductions in overall GHG emissions through corresponding reductions of fossil fuel generation (primarily natural gas) in the region” as one of the many benefits of the project. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which just granted a permit for this project, was very clear throughout its own public hearings and in its order that assessment of greenhouse gases fell under the PUC’s jurisdiction. Acknowledging the DEP’s jurisdictional boundaries, project representatives did not address greenhouse gas reductions during the DEP’s extensive permitting process. This led some to misstate the representatives’ intention as a dismissal of the environmental benefits rather than as respect for the DEP process.

Protecting our forests makes sense not only from an environmental standpoint — it makes good economic sense, too. Maine forests support billions in manufacturing output and payroll. Also, thousands of Maine people depend on healthy forests for their livelihoods, in the tourism or recreation industries. Though some dismiss the financial impact of project construction, the billion-dollar investment in this project will bring additional revenue into Western Maine. And 1,600 new jobs lasting at least two years will make a big difference in the lives of a lot of Maine families during this challenging and uncertain time.

Regrettably, one sector of the forest industry — biomass — has been struggling for the past several years. A 2018 report commissioned by the Maine Development Foundation found “Maine has lost significant markets for biomass, primarily due to lost energy generation at now-closed pulp and paper mills.” The year before, a report prepared for the Governor’s Energy Office  determined “the revenue at biomass electricity facilities does not cover the cost of operations at standalone facilities in Maine. There is no reason to expect the economic situation of these facilities to change soon.”

While several factors are clearly at play with biomass, the PUC determined the New England Clean Energy Connect would not result in any adverse effects on Maine electric generators, which include biomass facilities. Nor will the project impact future renewable generation, according to the MPUC’s authorizing order.

In fact, as noted on page 72 of the recent MPUC order, the $200 million worth of upgrades planned for Maine’s electricity infrastructure may well make it easier for renewable energy sources, including biomass, to connect to the power grid. Maine’s renewable energy sector should continue to grow because of the New England Clean Energy Connect, rather than shrink because of it, as some have suggested.

The importance of Maine’s forests — to our environment, our culture, our economy, and our sense of what makes Maine truly Maine — is widely appreciated. Investing in clean, renewable energy — hydropower from the New England Clean Energy Connect project along with wind, solar and biomass — will help protect the Maine Woods from the dangers of climate change.

That’s worth fighting for.

Thomas Rumpf was the associate state director for The Nature Conservancy for 15 years. Prior to that, he worked for the Maine Forest Service where he also served as the Maine State Entomologist. 

Lloyd Irland was faculty at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He previously served as the director of the Maine Bureau of Public Lands and as Maine State Economist. 

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