Maine legislators urge Baker to respect “stunning rebuke”

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BOSTON (SHNS) – Fifty Maine lawmakers from both sides of the aisle sent a letter Tuesday to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker calling on him to walk away from the controversial transmission corridor intended to carry hydroelectric power from Quebec through Maine for Massachusetts’ benefit and pushed back on his analysis of Maine’s vote to undermine the project.

A key pillar in Baker’s climate policy portfolio, the New England Clean Energy Connect project was essentially rejected by Maine voters on the Nov. 2 ballot, but legal and regulatory challenges are underway as Central Maine Power Company attempts to salvage the project it and its parent company has already spent nearly $500 million to build.

“Respecting the will of Maine people is critical as New England states and governments collectively work to address climate change,” the Maine legislators wrote in a letter circulated by the House Democratic Office. “As a bipartisan group of lawmakers representing regions throughout Maine, we discourage Massachusetts from proceeding with this project after the people of Maine delivered a stunning rebuke of the NECEC. Massachusetts has other options it can pursue to respect the will of Maine people and reach your state’s energy aspirations.”

The Maine delegation urged Baker to “terminate the NECEC contract and move on to choose another project” from the numerous bids his administration received in 2017 when it first began pursuing Quebec hydropower to fulfill part of a 2016 Massachusetts clean energy law. That would mean selecting a third project from those bids since NECEC was chosen only after regulators in New Hampshire torpedoed the first choice of Massachusetts utility companies, the Northern Pass project.

Baker has said he does not think the Maine referendum, which saw about 60 percent of voters oppose NECEC, means that the transmission project is dead but his administration has been mum on the project’s future since the vote.

The governor previously suggested that the result of the Maine vote “speaks to a much larger issue … with regard to the work that is being done and will need to be done to electrify those parts of our economy that are currently driven by fossil fuels” and the need for greater transmission capacity.

In their letter to Baker, the Maine legislators rejected that notion and said the rejection of NECEC “should not be misconstrued as creating a risk for future transmission line construction necessary as part of the region’s efforts to electrify transportation and heating.”

“The measure specifically focuses on a poorly sited project, the NECEC, prohibiting such transmission lines in one portion of Maine’s North Woods, and requiring a majority vote in the future only for high-intensity transmission lines greater than 50 miles in length that are not necessary for reliability purposes and not generator lead lines,” the lawmakers wrote. “Well-planned projects can readily be approved through this process.”

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