The state of New Hampshire rejected a plan to run a powerline corridor through the state’s famous White Mountain Wilderness in order to redirect hydro-energy from Canada to Massachusetts in February of 2018. The New Hampshire regulators decided that the corridor, dubbed the Northern Pass, didn’t do enough for the state to justify the damage it would cause the rich tourism industry in the Whites. As a result, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker turned to the state of Maine and struck a deal with Central Maine Power (CMP) to use existing corridors in Maine for his initiative while also cutting away over fifty miles of pristine Maine north woods for what has been formally called the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC). CMP has suggested that the project will yield significant economic and environmental benefits for the state of Maine, but the state of New Hampshire turned down the deal because they knew it wasn’t in their best interest; Maine regulatory powers need to recognize and reject the corridor for the same reasons.
The majority of CMP’s 145 mile line would run parallel to existing power lines, but a significant scar, about 53 miles, would have to be carved through Maine’s North Wilderness and across environmentally vulnerable areas as well as recreational areas like the Appalachian Trail and the Kennebec River Gorge if the project were to proceed. The corridor itself would be 150 feet wide and include a 75-foot buffer on each side. The entire project is estimated to cost $950 million in total, none of which would be paid for by the state of Maine or its residents. Most of the costs will instead fall on the state of Massachusetts, which is seeking to reach carbon dioxide reduction goals set in 2008. Central Maine Power itself and its parent company, Avangrid, stand to make $60 million a year over the course of the 20-year contract.
The stakes are high for all communities, but no more so than the Forks community whose small economy relies on ecotourism for the Appalachian Trail and white water rafting businesses. For these Mainers, who rely on the beauty and serenity of their environment for their businesses, CMP has promised to pump tens of millions of dollars into the Forks community and those around it which may be negatively affected by the corridor. This, in short, is not much more than a bribe for those residents, and one that may not last them as long as they might think. Spokespeople for CMP have also argued that the corridor will save Mainers tens of millions of dollars on electricity prices, when in reality, according to Maine Public, the savings per household could range from $1.50 to 10 cents a month. After the money runs out and Mainers realize the savings aren’t all that special, the beauty and the wildlife of the North Woods will have already been permanently disrupted.
The plan is neither in the best interest of the state’s economy nor the actual reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Seth Berry, Maine’s co-chair on energy and utilities, suggests that, “by sending [power] east instead of west [Massachusetts] will create more demand… for what’s called backfilling from the West.” Clean energy is not being created anew, it is simply being routed to another source, thus leaving space open for more power to be generated through the use of fossil fuels. Berry argues that instead of letting another state run “a giant extension cord” from Canada, Maine should invest in its own clean energy solutions like off-shore wind or solar power and sell that energy for profit.
The NECEC is far from passing, as it has to be approved by multiple state and federal regulators before any ground can be broken, and Mainers opposed to the corridor are currently petitioning for a referendum on 2020 ballots. Just this month the Land Use Planning Commission postponed their decision on whether the corridor is an appropriate use of state lands.
The wild, isolated expanse of the North Woods is a vital aspect of Maine’s identity, and its fate should be a referendum in itself upon what will become of “The Way Life Should Be.”