The Central Maine Power corridor has been rejected by Maine voters, its permit is suspended and it faces potentially fatal legal challenges, so now is a critical time to learn the right lessons from what went wrong with the CMP corridor.

First and foremost, every project that claims to address the climate crisis is not necessarily a good project. Developers should not mistake the public’s concern about climate change as permission to bring forward poorly planned projects. Scrutiny by the public is legitimate and useful, and that’s what Maine voters provided. We should respect their verdict that the CMP project is a bad deal for Maine.

Second, site selection is destiny. CMP chose a highly controversial path and struggled every step of the way to defend it. The company was so focused on picking a route to maximize profits and minimize its bid price to Massachusetts that it ignored how Maine people would react. Rather than proposing to bury the line along roadways, CMP quietly secured a corridor through 53 miles of western Maine forestland because it was cheaper. This approach built enormous resentment and made it high-risk by design.

Third, the public must be involved from the start. Although CMP claimed to have “strong support of communities and stakeholders in Maine,” such support never existed. CMP presented the route as a fait accompli and then tried to sell it to the public. This strategy failed. CMP furtively got towns along the corridor to sign letters of support for the project, and then watched those towns rescind the letters because of citizen outrage. No development project has universal appeal, but this one never earned public support. As a result, CMP spent $68 million on an ill-fated campaign to bring Mainers on board after the fact.

Fourth, benefits must be shared with host communities. CMP never came close to providing Mainers with a good deal. Despite the prospect of $2.9 billion in profits for its shareholders, CMP offered little for Maine – much less than was offered by developers for competing projects in Vermont and New Hampshire. Only as opposition escalated did CMP put a bit more on the table, but it remained insulting in the eyes of Maine people.

Similarly, Hydro-Quebec, which stands to make $12.4 billion from the project, has failed to provide fair compensation to the First Nations that lost millions of acres of ancestral lands to Hydro-Quebec’s dams.

Fifth, climate benefits must be real and verified. Doubts about whether Hydro-Quebec’s existing power could provide new climate benefits have dogged this energy source for years. CMP fought to defeat an independent climate study to verify whether the claims being made about the project were true. On the path toward real climate action, verification and accounting will be essential. This project was all “trust,” no “verify.”

Finally, as New England moves toward a modernized, decarbonized grid, there will be no substitute for strategic, long-term transmission and distribution planning. That’s not how the CMP corridor emerged. The CMP corridor was anointed by Massachusetts utilities without regional input or a balancing of costs, benefits, alternatives and permitting risks. There is a right way to build out the grid; this project was a poster child for the wrong way.

In recent years, Mainers witnessed 440 miles of new transmission line get built as part of the Maine Power Reliability Program. We’ve seen nearly 1,000 megawatts of land-based wind power get built at more than a dozen wind farms. More than 250 megawatts of solar energy have been deployed in the past two years, with hundreds of additional megawatts in the pipeline. In the context of that success, the CMP corridor has been an unfortunate debacle. Maine can and will move forward, embracing well-developed clean-energy projects, as long as we learn the right lessons from what has gone so wrong for CMP.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.