The recent ruling stopping construction of New England Clean Energy Connect is a blow to renewable-energy development in Maine. When clean energy developers cannot trust that fully permitted projects – actively under construction – will be safe from obstruction by fossil fuel competitors, we all suffer.

While resolve remains to fight for needed energy transmission projects like Clean Energy Connect, we believe it a mistake to dismiss the messages sent by Maine voters Nov. 2.

First and foremost, the election result reflects deep unhappiness with Central Maine Power Co. Its efforts to resolve problems that have plagued it for years do not please Maine people. We agree with Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz that much of the referendum vote “was about punishment” of CMP. Corridor opponents linked a “yes” vote on Question 1 to penalizing CMP, making clear that it must address its problems and make its reforms pleasing to its customers.

At the same time, CMP’s shortcomings were not the only driver of the election outcome. The glaring truth is that three of America’s top 12 worst carbon polluters –NextEra Energy, Calpine Corp. and Vistra Energy – waged a multiyear, multimillion-dollar battle against the Clean Energy Corridor; and in the process, aligned themselves closely with well-intentioned Mainers who hold sincere objections to the project.

The goal of these fossil fuel companies was and remains to convince Mainers to believe the referendum was about one transmission line being built by a company Mainers do not trust; that it had little, if anything, to do with clean, affordable energy. Make no mistake: The interests of some of the nation’s and New England’s biggest oil and gas polluters came out way ahead in this referendum.

By convincing voters that punishing CMP was paramount, the fossil fuel companies placed at risk a fully permitted project that would deliver 1,200 megawatts of clean hydroelectricity to the region, enough to power 1 million homes and reduce climate emissions equal to removing 700,000 cars from the road. They did so because this amount of power, delivered at a price far below their prices, would cause them to sell less dirty power and diminish their profits.

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The simple strategy of the oil and gas industry, here and elsewhere, is to stall clean-energy development: to delay as long as possible our needed shift away from fossil fuels to clean renewables, including base-power hydroelectricity. They succeeded in convincing a majority of Maine voters to disregard the lawful permitting by Maine’s own, impartial regulators, as well as the gainful employment of hundreds of Maine working men and women.

For years to come, renewable-energy companies and others considering doing business in Maine will weigh this precedent and the risk of the rug’s being pulled out from under, should they be targeted by these powerful polluters. A terrible precedent has also been set for dozens of other shovel-ready projects in America that aim to usher in our clean-energy future. Opponents of renewable-energy projects can now look to Maine and use the model developed here (and in New Hampshire) as a playbook to undermine those projects as well.

The transition to clean energy sources and transmission lines is essential if we wish to keep our planet healthy and habitable for human beings and all we care for. On Nov. 2, Mainers sent a message that CMP must take to heart. But Maine can hold CMP accountable for its behavior without rewarding the oil and gas industry’s callous disregard for Maine and our planet.

The fight to mitigate the climate crisis will go on much longer than the next few days, months and years. To meet the existential challenge of our time, we must learn from this Maine experience  so we may succeed in the fight against what our Department of Environmental Protection calls the single greatest threat to Maine’s natural environment – climate change!

 

 


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