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The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

At trial, sides debate climate benefits of CMP transmission project

"Say NO to 145-mile CMP transmission line through Maine" via Facebook

The attorney for the state's leading environmental group on Wednesday attempted to upend a central argument pushed by lawyers representing Central Maine Power's parent company during a jury trial that could determine the fate of a transmission project stalled by voters.

Throughout the trial, attorneys for Avangrid, CMP's parent company, have described project opponents as relentless, obstinate and funded by competitors and electricity generators that would lose market share if the New England Clean Energy Connect is ever completed.

That was true Wednesday when Thorn Dickinson, the retired president of the NECEC, returned to the witness stand to defend project developers' construction decisions in 2021, the same year as the referendum that scuttled the project.

"We had some opposition that was well crafted. They move from place to place across the country fighting these kind of projects that hurt their own best interests, their own bottom line and they're very good at it," he said.

Dickinson was responding to questions from attorney Jamie Kilbreth, who is representing the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an intervenor for the defense.

His depiction is also meant to weaken arguments by defendants that project developers adjusted construction schedules to establish vested rights, a legal theory that could overturn a 2021 referendum that scuttled the NECEC if the jury rules in Avangrid's favor.

Kilbreth then highlighted divisions among environmental groups over the project's climate benefits.

"So at least you'd agree that there's a significant difference of opinion about the benefits of the project, wouldn't you?" Kilbreth asked.

"The way I would frame it is, we were never able to have a constructive conversation (with NRCM)," Dickinson responded.

"Every time I met with them they were nasty, obnoxious, they didn't want to listen, they didn't want to talk. I talked about things we could change, things we could do," he continued.

While benefits of the project are not a consideration in the trial, jurors' views about the project opposition could determine how they rule after final arguments conclude next week.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.