A judge in Maine ruled this week to keep a stalled New England energy project on hold. It’s a proposed transmission line, running through Maine, that would bring carbon-free, hydro energy from the Canadian province of Quebec to Massachusetts.
That state is trying to transition to cleaner power to meet its growing energy needs.
Supporters say the line could help New England avoid the kind of power blackouts that hit Texas last winter. But after Mainers voted against the project in a referendum last month, construction stopped.
The transmission line project, called New England Clean Energy Connect, has a lot of support from environmentalists – like Lincoln Jeffers.
“As we are trying to transition to a clean energy economy, I think it is absolutely essential that we embrace hydro,” he said.
Jeffers is also the Economic and Community Development Director for Lewiston, Maine’s second largest city. He said the line isn’t a new idea. The provincially-owned power company Hydro-Quebec has been providing energy to New England for decades, and spent years clearing regulatory hurdles for this project.
“They went through the public gauntlet, and in my mind, reason should have prevailed,” he said.
But despite support from U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and others, Mainers voted against the line in November as opponents – who also consider themselves environmentalists – argued it would cut through state forests.
“It’s not fair for people in the state of Maine to be the power cord from Massachusetts,” said Todd Towle, a local fly fishing guide who opposed the project.
Opponents said the transmission line would harm the environment.
And Towle said he also had concerns about depending on foreign entities for energy.
“As friendly as Canada is to us, and we’ve had a great relationship with them, do we really want our power coming from another country?” he said.
“Every time we’d speak, someone would say, ‘You’re lying, you’re foreigners,’” said Serge Abergel, the chief operating officer of Hydro-Quebec Energy Services. He claims the opposition to the project is largely funded by American natural gas producers Calpine, Vistra Energy and NextEra which already serve the area.
“They don’t want to lose that market share. And this is not something unique to New England. It’s something that’s happening in many places in the country,” he said.
None of those natural gas producers responded to Marketplace’s request for comment. Developers have vowed to keep fighting for the $1 billion project, even as the voter-approved law blocking it takes effect this weekend.
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