With some misgivings, our editorial board supports a “no” vote on Question 1, the referendum that would kill a $1 billion electric transmission line being built across western Maine to bring Canadian hydropower to New England.

Despite still-unresolved questions and strong objections to the conduct of the campaign, especially on the vote “no” side, we see this project as part of the fight against climate change. A “yes” vote on Question 1 is a vote to do nothing about the greatest challenge of our time and at this point in history, we don’t have time to do nothing.

The scientific consensus tells us that the best way to avoid the worst climate catastrophes is to start using electricity for all our energy needs, including home heating and transportation, while we shift generation away from coal, oil and natural gas to renewable power sources, a process known as beneficial electrification.

To pull off this transition over the next 30 years, we will need to double the amount of electricity we generate and produce it in different places. That is going to require enormous public and private investment in infrastructure. It’s also going take a tolerance for change as projects move through the planning process.

Contrary to what some charge, this project did not start as a money-making scheme for Central Maine Power. It began in 2016 when the state of Massachusetts set aggressive greenhouse-gas emission targets and requested proposals for clean-power projects. Among those selected was New England Clean Energy Connect, proposed by Avangrid, CMP’s U.S. corporate parent, in partnership with Hydro-Quebec.

Under the agreement, Hydro-Quebec would provide the power, Avangrid would build the transmission line and Massachusetts would pay for both through rate-payers’ electric bills.

Question 1’s supporters say that this would not guarantee a real reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions because Hydro-Quebec could meet its obligation to Massachusetts by diverting the power it now sells to other customers, who might then buy dirty power elsewhere. But Hydro-Quebec says it has more than enough capacity to fill this contract and still serve its other customers.

At this point, it’s impossible to say which side is right. But we know for sure that Massachusetts is committed to meeting this part of its energy needs without burning oil, gas or coal. That means that this project moves New England toward beneficial electrification.

Maine has been subjected to a $70 million political campaign funded on both sides by corporations whose only interest in our state is the amount of money they can make here. Political action committees, funded by gas and nuclear interests on the “yes” side and Hydro-Quebec on the “no” side, have tried to complicate an already complicated issue.

The worst example came from the group Mainers for Fair Laws, funded by NECEC’s developers, which has tried to create the impression that all land-use contracts with the state would be in jeopardy if Question 1 passes because the new law would be retroactive.

It’s simply not true. Legislatures have passed retroactive laws in the past and they have been upheld as constitutional. Whether this particular law goes too far will be a question for a court to decide if Question 1 passes. Making retroactivity a central argument in this campaign is an attempt to distract and confuse voters at a time when Question 1’s opponents should have focused on NECEC’s benefits.

It’s important to remember that every energy project comes at a cost. That’s as true of wind, solar or hydro as it is of coal, gas or nuclear.

Facing the emergency of climate change, the editorial board decided that the benefits of this plan outweighed its costs.  We are not alone in this conclusion.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection and its staff scientists reviewed the project and approved it with conditions. The Maine Public Utilities Commission and its staff of experts evaluated evidence from all sides and issued a permit after getting concessions from the developer.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously upheld the PUC’s decision.

That’s how government is supposed to work. We haven’t seen any evidence over the last three years that Maine’s regulators have failed to do their jobs, or that the law is inadequate to protect the environment.

But we have seen mounting and terrifying proof that the climate crisis has arrived and that we can’t wait for perfect solutions if we are going to address it.

That’s why we put aside our misgivings and encourage readers to vote “no” on Question 1.


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