Maine DEP suspends license of hydro transmission line
Fate of Mass.-financed project now in hands of the courts
THE MAINE Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday suspended the license it issued for a Massachusetts-financed transmission line carrying hydroelectricity from Quebec until a court either halts enforcement of or overturns a law passed by voters on November 3 blocking the project.
The decision by Melanie Loyzim, the commissioner of the department, means the fate of the project – a linchpin of the Massachusetts effort to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – is now in the hands of the courts in Maine.
Loyzim said all construction on the transmission line must stop. The developer of the project, New England Clean Energy Connect, had continued construction after the ballot question passed but voluntarily halted all work on Friday in response to a request from Gov. Janet Mills.
New England Clean Energy Connect has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction barring the enforcement of the law approved by voters. The law retroactively bans the construction of high-impact transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region of Maine and requires transmission lines located elsewhere in the state to obtain majority support in the legislature if they are located on private land and two-thirds support if they run through public lands.
“I find there are no readily identifiable and potentially viable alternative routes that would allow completion of the project and delivery of renewable hydropower from Canada to the New England grid given the statutory changes in the approved referendum,” Loyzim said in her decision. “The possibility of an additional alternative route around the entire Upper Kennebec Region remains speculative at this time and, as a result, where an alternative route might cross into Maine, how it would avoid the Upper Kennebec Region, and where it might connect with the existing project route, if at all, is unknown.”
The law passed by voters formally takes effect on December 19.Fifty Maine lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday urging him to pull Massachusetts out of the transmission project. It’s unclear if Baker has that authority at this point in time given the way the contract is written.
New Hampshire is the second location where Massachusetts has sought to import hydro-electricity from Quebec. The first attempt occurred in New Hampshire and was shot down in 2018 by regulators there. The Maine transmission line, which would run from the Quebec border to Lewiston, Maine, gained all the necessary approvals and moved forward until voters rejected it at the ballot box. New England Clean Energy Connect says it has spent more than $450 million on the $1 billion project so far.