Here we go again. After their initial efforts to stop New England Clean Energy Connect violated Maine’s constitution, opponents have now hastily devised a new plan to kill the renewable-energy project. While their new referendum push will rely on many of the same misleading and disproven arguments, opponents are now taking their efforts a step further, in ways that would end up hindering Maine’s ability to attract future renewable-energy projects.

The opposition coalition has written a question so broad that it would affect not just the clean-energy corridor, but also other renewable-energy generation projects across Maine, including solar and wind. Perversely, the measure would also create loopholes allowing many smaller, inefficient transmission lines that would cut more paths through Maine’s forests, affecting Maine’s wildlands on a larger scale than the clean-energy corridor will.

Project opponents are once again backed by fossil fuel companies that are doing everything they can to save their bottom lines and bypass government regulators on the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The Maine Legislature created the PUC with the express purpose of insulating permitting decisions from “the turmoil of politics.” Instead, they empowered the PUC’s experts to make decisions in the best interests of Maine people. This new referendum seeks to replace the role and authority of the commission with politics, requiring two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the Legislature for new high-voltage transmission lines longer than 50 miles anywhere in Maine.

Not only would the proposed legislation politicize approval of large-scale transmission lines and make it excessively difficult to acquire permits, it would block permits altogether in the Upper Kennebec region, where several proposed wind and solar projects are already in the works.

Achieving Maine’s goal of “decarbonizing” the economy by 2050 will require enormous investments in both renewable energy generation and the transmission grid. Faced with a major political obstacle to large-scale transmission infrastructure, why would renewable-energy developers choose to bring their projects to Maine? Off-shore wind generators, for instance, could just as easily connect in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, where permitting isn’t as politicized.

If the opponents’ goal is truly to protect Maine’s environment and natural habitats, this measure will backfire. By making approval for high-voltage transmission lines exceedingly difficult, it will encourage energy developers to build smaller, lower-voltage lines not subject to the proposed legislation. But such lines are less efficient, and more of them will be needed to carry the equivalent amount of renewable energy to the grid. More lines mean more disruption to the environment, animal habitats and scenic views. To us, it shows that project opponents have not thought carefully about the ultimate consequences for Maine’s environment.

With federal regulators warning that Maine could face rolling blackouts as early as 2024, our state’s energy future is at a crossroads. That’s why we should encourage projects that strengthen our infrastructure and bring more clean, renewable power on to the grid to help meet our carbon-emission-reduction goals – not a path obstructed by new obstacles.

Creating such a burdensome political hurdle for new transmission lines won’t just impede the clean-energy corridor project but will also block many new solar and wind projects by making it harder for new projects to connect to the grid. If NECEC opponents are willing to accept this consequence of the new measure, then their stated priority for renewable-energy generation is not as central to their opposition as they’ve always claimed.

Killing NECEC is bad policy, bad for the economy and bad for meeting our climate goals. Now, it could become even worse. We continue to support the clean-energy corridor, and to opponents of the project, we say: Enough is enough. We should be attracting clean-energy projects that invest in our economy, put Mainers to work and infuse millions of dollars into our businesses and towns. The measure proposed by clean-energy corridor opponents wouldn’t block just one project – it would threaten Maine’s tradition of depoliticized permitting in the public interest, inhibit investment in new clean-energy projects and ultimately hurt our environment and economy for years to come.

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