By Governor Janet Mills
You know I always expected, and welcomed, a robust discussion regarding the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project, a discussion that should be based on facts, not speculation and fear.
You may have seen the campaign on Facebook and TV funded by someone who refuses to be identified. Maybe it is one of those big oil or gas companies resistant to the idea of clean energy coming to Maine and New England because they would rather keep us reliant on them.
There has been a lot said about NECEC. I want you to hear the facts directly from me.
So, here is the truth.
During my campaign for governor I promised to reduce Maine’s dangerous reliance on fossil fuels, to address our carbon footprint and to work hard to prevent and mitigate climate change. I always said that I wanted to see substantial benefits for Maine people before I could support the NECEC project.
Once I took office, I asked Hydro-Quebec to come to the table and I insisted that the project include electric vehicle charging stations, provisions to support renewable energy, broadband access and heat pumps, as well as cash relief for ratepayers over and above the benefits of lower electricity prices.
As a result, the stipulation I authorized the Governor’s Energy Office to sign onto is markedly different from where things stood at the end of last year. Many parties, including the Conservation Law Foundation, the Acadia Center, electrical union IBEW, the Maine Public Advocate, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the nonprofit Western Mountains & Rivers Corp., the city of Lewiston, the Industrial Energy Consumers Group and the Union of Concerned Scientists all agree that this project should go through. The editorial boards of the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News and The Ellsworth American have all said the same.
By all objective analyses, this project will suppress the price of electricity in Maine and across the region, saving Maine residents alone millions of dollars each year in electricity costs.
In addition, a $50-million Low Income Customer Benefits Fund and an efficiency $140-million fund will further reduce electricity rates for Maine consumers.
The energy that will be delivered by this project will be low-carbon hydropower from Quebec’s existing system of dams. When it comes to hydropower, water is fuel. For the past two years, Hydro-Quebec has generated historic amounts of electricity thanks to an increase in rain and snow, and long-term weather forecasts indicate that this trend will continue, providing more power generation. This project will provide the transmission lines needed to take advantage of that additional stored water, exporting it as clean energy and contributing to a reduction in the amount of carbon used by foregoing the use of fossil fuels.
With an investment of more than $30 million in broadband, in education and scholarships, and other community benefits, and another $30 million in electric vehicle infrastructure and heat pumps, this project will boost, not diminish, the Maine economy. And the settlement ensures continued access to the transmission system for existing and new renewable energy projects in Maine.
The project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in New England by 3.6 million metric tons per year — that is the equivalent of removing 767,000 passenger vehicles from our roads.
Importantly, the stipulation creates a new special purpose entity — not Central Maine Power — to build and operate this transmission line. And it will cost Maine ratepayers nothing. Massachusetts will foot the bill.
Now I recognize the concerns of those who are worried about the environmental impacts. Already, however, I know that the project has changed a lot to accommodate specific environmental and sportsmen’s concerns. The path of the line has been changed for instance to minimize environmental impact. The line will now run under the scenic Kennebec Gorge instead of over it. And there are proposals to preserve deer wintering areas, revegetate cut-over areas and retain the canopy of tall trees wherever it can.
To put things in context, though, 411,000 acres of trees are cut in Maine every year. The number of new acres that would be felled because of this project would equal two-tenths of a percent of what we already cut. This project is undergoing a rigorous environmental review, with public input, at the DEP, at the Land Use Planning Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Presidential Permitting authorities.
The transmission line project, substantially enhanced by this stipulation, now is poised to benefit Maine people, to inject millions into our economy, to create jobs, to fund electric vehicles, to reduce electricity costs, to expand broadband and substantially reduce our carbon footprint. I believe that this is a project, on balance, that is worth pursuing.
Janet Mills is governor of the state of Maine.