When it comes to the New England Clean Energy Connect project, you’ve heard it all, right?

A photo simulation shows the view looking northwest from Wilson Hill Road in West Forks toward the proposed Central Maine Power transmission line. Rendering/simulation courtesy of Central Maine Power

No. Sure, you’ve probably memorized the job numbers, the CO2 reduction, the unlikely alliances, the doomsday claims. But before you vote, please also consider the alternatives.

The Mars Hill Wind project is a 28-turbine array sited near Presque Isle. Most folks who’ve been to Aroostook know it. Its relatively small commercial turbines are almost 400 feet tall, not 80 to 100 feet, and they are erected prominently on ridges, not tucked into low-lying areas like power lines are. The turbine poles are 20 feet in diameter at their base, not 18 inches. They move. Blade tips reach speeds that give unlucky eagles and brown-nosed bats an exit velocity stronger than a Raphael Devers home run. Bright red turbine strobes dominate the night sky. Their subsonic noise disturbs the human ear’s equilibrium. Mars Hill is visible for up to 30 miles in the daytime, farther at night.

It has a nameplate generating capacity of 42 megawatts, and its capacity factor is about 32 percent, meaning that it averages 14 megawatts, or effectively about four months of generation per year. The 1,200-megawatt NECEC will deliver 24/7. The grid operator will rely upon this base load dispatchability, as opposed to wondering every day if Mars Hill will produce anything.

As an alternative to NECEC, we would need almost 100 new Mars Hill Wind projects performing at 32 percent to deliver the equivalent electricity to the grid. That’s over 2,500 bird-chopping, thumping, flashing towers, 40 stories tall on pretty much every hill in Maine. Maine now has only about 400 turbines, and well-traveled Mainers see that turbines are already a shockingly prominent feature of our landscape.

Another perspective: Everyone knows the Wyman Dam, on your left as you drive up Route 201 between Bingham and The Forks. Central Maine Power built it a century ago, before shoreland zoning. It was and remains Maine’s largest dam. When it was commissioned, Wyman’s 70-megawatt capacity was enough to power everything in our rapidly industrializing state! It created a massive flooded reservoir that upsets nobody today but would be cataclysmic if proposed now. If Wyman operates at 70 percent capacity factor, we would need 24 new Wyman Dams to equal the delivered electricity from NECEC.

The solar alternative? Maine panels achieve approximately 15 percent capacity factor. To supply the same electricity as the high-benefit and low-impact NECEC, we would need a line of 25 million solar panels laid end to end that stretches 25,000-plus miles from Maine around the Earth, back through Maine – and on to Buffalo again.

One new Seabrook-sized nuclear plant could also do it.

CMP has thousands of miles of transmission in Maine. Now, as it adds a mere 53 miles to that vast network, we’re almost hysterical. Without transmission, Maine’s quality of life would be that of a Third World country. We see transmission daily, and it is essentially imperceptible except up close. Even the view from Katahdin’s forever wild summit includes power lines tucked into forest. Wires are the width of a sapling, and poles blend harmoniously into the trees (which they once were).

Recall the Maine Power Reliability Project. It’s about 10 times bigger than the NECEC. Most of its poles are much bigger than the NECEC poles. The corridors aren’t just 60 feet across; they’re wider than the Maine Turnpike. A decade ago, CMP triumphantly completed those 440 miles of transmission after exhaustive hearings, thousands of documents in evidence, expert witnesses, cross-examination, rebuttal, legal analysis, etc. There was opposition, and compromise, then all the hard-earned permits were awarded according to law – the same process that we had with the NECEC. But this time, the opposition so disliked playing by the rules (and losing), they now seek to change the rules after the game has ended!

Before you vote on Question 1, imagine how Maine would look with 2,500 skyscraping ridgetop wind turbines. Or 25 million solar panels, or 24 new Wyman Dams. Imagine the rate increases. The sprawling web of requisite transmission. The incalculable tree harvests.

Is your backyard open to that? Can Maine – whose calling card is quality of place – sustain that?


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