Staff proposal would retain permit for $1B transmission line

May 16, 2022 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A proposed Maine Board of Environmental Protection order would let stand a permit issued for a $1 billion electric transmission corridor to serve as a conduit for Canadian hydropower.

The draft order was written by environmental agency staff ahead of a hearing this week that was postponed because of COVID-19 illnesses.

The board was supposed to meet Tuesday to decide whether to hold a public hearing or to begin deliberations the following day.

The permit was suspended by Maine Environmental Commissioner Melanie Loyzim after voters rebuked the project in a statewide referendum. Because the permit was not permanently revoked, the Board of Environmental Protection was required to issue a final decision on consolidated appeals.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, meanwhile, is weighing a lawsuit aimed at overturning the referendum on constitutional grounds, as well questions about the legality of a state lease for a small portion of land.

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Funded by Massachusetts ratepayers, the New England Clean Energy Connect would supply up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower — enough electricity for 1 million homes — to the regional power grid.

Supporters say bold projects are necessary to battle climate change. Critics say the benefits are overstated, and that it would destroy woodlands.

Most of the proposed 145-mile (233-kilometer) power transmission line would be built along existing corridors, but a new 53-mile (85-kilometer) section is needed to reach the Canadian border.

In the board’s draft order, the environmental agency’s staff concluded that the project will not unreasonably interfere with scenery, cause soil erosion or flooding, or harm fish or other aquatic life.

“The licensee made adequate provision for fitting the development harmoniously into the existing natural environment and the development will not adversely affect existing uses, scenic character, air quality, water quality or other natural resources,” the proposed order said.

The proposed order, which established some additional conditions for the project, could become the underpinnings of a final decision, or could be disregarded by the board, said David Madore, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

It’s unclear when the board will meet again. The soonest the board can meet is in late June, it said.