Last week the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the proposed referendum against Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect is unconstitutional on its face. Still, we may expect to hear more Chicken Little arguments about this project from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

What is most striking about NRCM’s claims (“Commentary: Don’t fall for CMP’s, Hydro-Quebec’s climate change claims,” July 28) is less their baselessness than their revelation of just how many Maine experts must be wrong for NRCM to be right.

Hydro-Quebec is the largest generator of clean, renewable energy in North America. Today it has more electricity than it needs, and is willing to sell it to all of New England at a below-market price. When this clean, affordable energy comes online, it will undercut the price of electricity generated in New England by natural gas, coal and oil, all major sources of carbon pollution. It will cause these plants to run less, decreasing global carbon pollution even while saving us money.

In years of regulatory proceedings on NECEC, tens of thousands of pages of documentation, hundreds of hours of expert testimony and thousands of public comments were entered into the records of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Maine Land Use Planning Commission and other agencies tasked with safeguarding the Maine environment, economy and public interest. The proceedings involved the full and active participation of scores of stakeholders, including NRCM.

The PUC established that Hydro-Quebec – after more than a decade of dam construction; initiating projects to increase the efficiency of existing turbines; and substantial increases in stored water – now has more than enough capacity to supply the 1,200-megawatt NECEC without having to build any new power stations.

During the PUC proceedings, NRCM (allied with Texas-based natural gas and oil interests) conjectured that since Hydro-Quebec isn’t building any new dams, the only way the utility can sell this much electricity to New England is to take it from  other export markets, which, in turn, will be forced to replace it with dirty energy sources. Based on evidence collected in its proceeding, the PUC commissioners and their professional staff rejected NRCM’s arguments.

By continuing to put forward a discredited argument, NRCM turns a blind eye to two basic facts:

• Hydro-Quebec has expanded capacity from its completed dams, installment of new turbine technologies, and historic levels of stored water behind these dams.

• Hydro-Quebec’s major export markets, and Quebec itself, all have strict carbon emission reduction goals that would invoke prohibitive financial penalties for any expansion of high carbon-emitting energy sources if existing exports were diverted to New England.

Issues of natural resource protection, utility regulation and global warming are complex and technical, to be sure. That is why Maine established specialized, overlapping agencies with relevant expertise to make our most important permitting decisions. The panels of subject-matter experts at the PUC and DEP insulate decisions about the public interest from the political winds of the moment.

For more than a century, this type of separation, specialization and insulation has served Mainers well. The last half-century alone has resulted in unimagined success in Maine water and air quality improvement, land conservation and now the growth in clean-energy development to combat climate change.

Yet in its case against the CMP project, NRCM goes out of its way to ignore and even discredit the carefully reasoned findings of the agencies responsible for Maine’s distinguished environmental record. In its determination to undermine faith in these public agencies, NRCM only diminishes its own reputation as a champion of the Maine environment.

The choice NRCM gives us is clear: If we are to believe NRCM’s overwrought arguments and misleading conclusions, we must disbelieve the PUC, the DEPthe LUPC, the Office of the Public Advocate, the Governor’s Energy Office (under both Janet Mills and Paul LePage) … and the list goes on.

NRCM is free to ignore the facts and demean our public agencies and dialogue, but an awful lot of smart, honorable and committed Maine people have to be wrong to make NRCM right.


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