Maine jury delivers hydro relief for Mass.

Panel clears major hurdle in way of transmission line

BAY STATE and many New England policymakers breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday after a jury in Maine voted 9-0 to green light the completion of a Massachusetts-financed transmission line carrying hydroelectricity from Quebec into New England.

The transmission line and the power it will carry are of pivotal importance if Massachusetts is going to reach its climate change goals, but the project has been in legal limbo since 2021 when 59 percent of Maine voters approved a ballot question that retroactively killed it.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in August that key sections of the voter-passed initiative were unconstitutional because they deprived Avangrid, the company building the transmission line, of rights that had already vested.

Avangrid said it spent $450 million on the project, 43 percent of the estimated $1 billion cost, prior to passage of the ballot question. The Supreme Judicial Court left it up to a lower court to determine whether that $450 million was spent legitimately or whether that money was spent to set the stage for a legal appeal.

As Judge Michael Diddy put it in his charge to the jury, did Avangrid undertake “significant, visible construction on the project in good faith prior to the enactment of the initiative?”

The jury took three hours to rule that Avangrid did. There are still legal challenges facing the transmission line that need to be dealt with, but the project, called New England Clean Energy Connect, now appears to be on fairly solid footing.

Rebecca Tepper, Gov. Maura Healey’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, issued a statement calling the verdict “a critical step in moving Massachusetts forward to securing more affordable, reliable, and clean energy.”

Anne George, a vice president at ISO New England, the region’s power grid operator, said the verdict is critical to developing the type of energy infrastructure needed to build a clean and reliable power grid.

“The New England states’ ambitious climate goals will require building significant amounts of new infrastructure in a region where building infrastructure has been difficult,” she said.

The jury verdict and the previous Supreme Judicial Court decision in Maine are huge victories for Avangrid, a key player in the Massachusetts clean energy effort that has been struggling of late.

Not only is an Avangrid subsidiary in Maine building the transmission line that will carry hydroelectricity from Quebec to Lewiston, Maine, and from there into the regional power grid, it is also the developer of a major offshore wind farm that is in a legal limbo of its own.

Avangrid won a procurement from Massachusetts for offshore wind last year, but has tried to back out of the deal citing changing economic conditions that it says have made the original terms unworkable.

At a recent press conference, Healey said her administration is working on a resolution to the impasse over Avangrid’s offshore wind contract.

“We want to make sure there’s fairness in the process,” she said. “We want to make sure that we get the best price. And we want to make sure that with the development of this industry we’re getting everything that we need to get in terms of the benefits for communities across Massachusetts.”