Mainers vote to halt $1B electric transmission line

By DAVID SHARP Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Mainers voiced their disapproval Tuesday for a 145-mile (233-kilometer) conduit for Canadian hydropower that was billed as either a bold step in battling climate change or unnecessary destruction of woodlands.

Utilities have poured more than $90 million into the battle over the $1 billion project ahead of the referendum on Tuesday, making it the most expensive referendum in Maine history.

However, the statewide vote won’t be the final word. Litigation over the project will continue long after the votes are counted.

Sandi Howard, director of the of No CMP Corridor, called on Central Maine Power to respect the people’s will and to halt the project.

“The vote sends a message to CMP that Mainers want to reject this corridor. They want to preserve the integrity of western Maine,” she said. “Mainers clearly don’t trust CMP to develop a project of this magnitude.”

Clean Energy Matters, which supports the project, vowed to continue the effort to move forward with the project.

“We believe this referendum, funded by fossil fuel interests, is unconstitutional. With over 400 Maine jobs and our ability to meet our climate goals on the line, this fight will continue,” Jon Breed, executive director, said in a statement.

Funded by Massachusetts ratepayers, the New England Clean Energy Connect would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid. That’s enough electricity for 1 million homes.

Supporters said the project would remove carbon from the atmosphere and stabilize electricity rates across the entire region while helping Massachusetts reach its clean energy goals.

Critics contended the environmental benefits are overstated, and that it would forever change the forestland.

Some Mainers were frustrated that the referendum took place at all, saying it was bad public policy to retroactively vote down a project that already was approved by multiple state and federal agencies.

Three-quarters of trees already have been removed for the project, which calls for a transmission line that mostly follows existing utility corridors. But a new section needed to be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of woods to reach the Canadian border.

The project divided the environmental community and made for strange political bedfellows, with some owners of fossil fuel-powered plants aligning themselves with environmental opponents.

The parties were also divided, with some Republicans and Democrats opposing it, while current Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage both supported the project.

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