There’s not much to like about the current impasse on the New England Clean Energy Connect project.

There’s even less to like about the politics.

And in considering whether to support the corridor project, Central Maine Power’s poor history of customer service, the mangled rollout of its billing software and its general arrogance — and the arrogance of NECEC — in dealing with project opponents makes it entirely too easy to dismiss the merits of the corridor.

There are merits.

Project proponents — those who oppose Question 1 — ought to promote these benefits rather than fearmonger the specter of retroactive laws, when such power already exists for lawmakers.

Lowering carbon emissions on our planet should be a shared goal for us as human beings, even those who spurn the warnings of climate change. These emissions are created largely by our own actions, including burning fossil fuels, and if we care even a little bit about our future atmosphere we have an obligation to work toward lowering emissions.

The NECEC claim that the project will lower emissions by between 3 and 3.6 million metric tons is impressive. It’s also a projection, and one that has been vigorously challenged because NECEC will be permitted to pull from power resources that burn fossil fuels. But the conclusion of multiple studies – which all acknowledge the calculations can be different in different models – is that there will be a reduction in emissions across the region.

Precisely how much won’t be known until the corridor is transmitting, particularly since the fossil fuel option means the energy it transmits may not be 100% renewable, but NECEC claims the reduction is the equivalent of 700,000 fewer gas-powered cars.

That reduction, whether NECEC reaches its projections or something less, will benefit Maine because it benefits our entire region.

As positive as that will be, NECEC’s boorish dismissal to concerns of environmental damage is not as welcome.

Most of the 154-mile corridor is being routed through existing power lines, and the 53-mile stretch between The Forks and the Quebec border that is being cut has been logged for generations. It’s a beautiful stretch, but it’s not pristine. It’s a working forest.

It is the .9-mile piece on public lands — which is already bisected by a CMP power line — we are stumbling on. The lease agreement, signed in 2014 granting access to that stretch, is under review because the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands failed to assess whether the corridor would cause “substantial change” to the land before the lease was signed, which it was required to do.

Contrary to corridor opponents’ narrative that CMP contrived a backroom deal to get access to the land, it was actually Maine — that’s us — that failed due diligence. Not CMP.

And, during last Tuesday’s hearing on whether the state should revoke that lease, NECEC officials made it perfectly clear that if that happens they will find an alternate route off public lands. It’ll be more expensive and could alter more land, but it can be done.

With more than $1 billion at stake, that should come as no surprise.

Work on the corridor began quite some time ago and the converter station in Lewiston is under construction. The property tax revenue for Lewiston is already flowing; the first $1.55 million payment allowed city officials to lower property taxes ever so slightly for the coming year. When the converter station is complete and the electricity is moving, that revenue will climb and this city will benefit from a consistent funding source that will offer enormous and much-needed tax relief. And the city will be able to focus on capital improvements and social programs that are now out of reach. It will be a tremendous benefit for residents and businesses not just here, but across the region.

NECEC’s marketing message that the project, although principally to deliver power to Massachusetts, will also provide some discounted power to Maine is true. The project will also provide funding for energy-efficient heat pumps, and for scholarships and broadband, and the existing CMP grid will receive some improvements. All good, but these goodies were not gently offered up. They are part of stipulated agreements with the state as concessions to win over Mainers’ support in what had become — by July 2020 — an increasingly hostile battle for public approval.

Even so, the reduction in emissions and the sustained tax revenue for Maine are enough to support completion. The alarm over timber cutting in what is existing working forests has been overwrought, and the disputed lease in the Upper Kennebec Valley was the state’s failing.

The state’s additional failing was allowing horrendous wording in a clumsy and confusing referendum question, a failing that has generated far more conflict and anger than ever necessary.

The politics of this project must not override the positives, and the promises and concessions made by NECEC must not wither. Vote “No” and hold NECEC accountable for every word and deed.


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