Plugging in and tuning out

Did you know that if you vote yes on Question 1 the government will be able to time travel back to 1971 and demand your mother NOT give you that unfortunate bowl cut before fourth-grade picture day? Or that if you vote no, all the leaves in the forest will drop to the ground — not because it’s October, mind you — but because of the sheer horror? We exaggerate, of course. But after weeks of listening to escalating claims about what Question 1 will and will not do, we’ve developed a flair for drama.

The citizen initiative topping the Nov. 2 state ballot asks, “Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land?”

The “high-impact electric transmission lines” in question are part of the $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project now under construction. The 145-mile route is largely through land owned or controlled by Central Maine Power. An exception is a 1-mile stretch through Maine public lands near The Forks in western Maine. Two-thirds of the route follows existing CMP power line corridors, some of which are being widened. Other construction is on lands traditionally used for timber harvesting but that also provide important ecological habitat.

Supporters and opponents have collectively spent about $60 million trying to get your vote. Topping the list is Clean Energy Matters, a political action committee supported by New England Clean Energy Connect LLC, the partnership company formed by CMP and Hydro-Québec to build the corridor. Clean Energy Matters has spent $19.5 million in 2021 to try to defeat the ballot question.

But while CMP and Hydro-Quebec have spent heavily to protect their investment, it’s hardly a David and Goliath situation. Energy companies with competing interests have poured millions into opposing the corridor effort. Environmental groups, including Natural Resources of Maine, also oppose the corridor.

A “yes” vote essentially means, “No, I don’t want the corridor.” A “no” vote would allow the project to move forward.

While the project has become a Maine battleground, its impetus is Massachusetts’s effort to meet its clean energy goals. The transmission line would have a capacity of 1,200 megawatts, enough energy to run about 1 million homes. It would carry electricity from Quebec to Lewiston, where it would enter the New England power grid.

Under a deal negotiated with the state, Hydro-Québec will sell 500,000 megawatt (MWh) hours per year of hydroelectricity to Maine via NECEC at a discount of four dollars per MWh.

In addition to the ballot initiative, the project has been challenged in the courts. It doesn’t help that Mainers have little faith in CMP. The company ranks at the bottom of a national survey on customer satisfaction with utility companies. There is ample cause for distrust.

Still, this project has cleared numerous regulatory hurdles. Work has begun. There is something in it for Mainers.

We wouldn’t go so far as to say the corridor is a good deal for Maine, but it is good enough. Vote no on Question 1 and allow the New England Clean Energy Connect to continue.

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