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State environmental board rejects appeals of CMP corridor permits

Construction has started on Central Maine Power's corridor that is meant to carry hydroelectric power from Quebec through Maine to Massachusetts, although the project still faces numerous legal and other challenges.
Brian Bechard
Maine Public
Construction on Central Maine Power's corridor that is meant to carry hydroelectric power from Quebec through Maine to Massachusetts.

The Maine Board of Environmental Protection on Thursday denied an appeal by the opponents of Central Maine Power's high-voltage transmission line. But while a win for corridor backers, the board’s decision does not mean that work on the stalled project can resume.

In a unanimous vote, board members rejected requests to overturn permits issued to CMP and its partners in the New England Clean Energy Connect project, which aims to feed renewable energy from Canada into the regional power grid via a 145-mile transmission line through western Maine. Opponents, including a competitor of CMP, a coalition of western Maine groups and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, argued in their appeals that state regulators erred when they issued the permits in May of 2020.

Both sides are still waiting for the outcome of court cases that could decide the fate of the $1 billion project. And the NRCM's Nick Bennett said regardless of Thursday's board vote, the project's permit is still suspended by the Department of Environmental Protection until those cases are resolved.

"But the reality is the law of the land is that this project can't go forward and so people need to remember that,” Bennett said.

In a written statement, New England Clean Energy Connect praised the board’s decision.

“For the past three years, every regulatory body at the local, state and federal level that needed to do so has thoroughly reviewed the New England Clean Energy Connect,” the statement reads. “The Maine Department of Environmental Protection concluded two years ago this project will benefit our environment. We are pleased that the decision stands and will review the proposed conditions.”

The board ordered the DEP to make several changes to the permits, including increasing the amount of land that will have to be conserved to offset any impacts along the corridor route. The board also declined requests from the appellants to hold public hearings on the issues before making a decision on the appeal.

In its statement, New England Clean Energy Connect says the need for the corridor is even more evident as oil and gas prices surge and that the project’s architects have “gone to great lengths to mitigate the environmental impacts of the project.” The companies have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on construction and clearing the pathway through parts of western Maine, but that work was halted following the November referendum vote to block the project and other court challenges.

“With the price of gas and oil spiking, the need for the Clean Energy Corridor is even more evident today,” NECEC said. “We remain committed to the construction of the corridor and playing a significant role in Maine’s clean and renewable energy future.”

But opponents, like Bennett, argued that the project will not benefit regional efforts to combat climate change. Instead, they predict the project will harm wildlife and recreational opportunities in the mountains of western Maine.

"CMP is saying there are benefits to the climate, there are benefits to the climate – and yet we were not allowed to give expert testimony on the greenhouse gas issue,” Bennett said. “And that's unfortunate. But at this point, the project can't go forward."

Court decisions are expected soon in the lawsuits over CMP's access to state-owned land for the corridor and the constitutionality of last November's referendum vote.