Jurors in the New England Clean Energy Connect trial heard conflicting explanations Thursday about why work on the power-line corridor began earlier in 2021 than planned – and jumped around to different locations.

Did the schedule change to get ahead of a referendum vote aimed at killing the project? Was it because steel poles weren’t being delivered on time, or because mud season would keep work crews out of the woods? Or was it to deal with the effect of a court’s temporary ban on tree clearing and construction along an undeveloped segment of the 145-mile corridor?

Or were all these factors at play?

The numerous questions sprang from one that’s central to the case: Did the NECEC developers, affiliated with Central Maine Power, speed up the work schedule to claim “vested rights” for the project?

The project is organized under NECEC Transmission LLC, a subsidiary of Connecticut-based Avangrid Inc., the parent company of Central Maine Power. Both are controlled by Iberdrola, a Spanish multinational energy company.

The fourth day of the seven-day trial featured a video deposition of Shawn Mitchell, East Coast regional manager for Wisconsin-based Northern Clearing Inc. Northern was the company hired to cut trees for the corridor.


Jamie Kilbreth, the lead defense attorney representing project opponents including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, questioned Mitchell over the reasoning and added costs behind change orders to the company’s initial contract with NECEC.

This was a period, in mid-January of 2021, after NECEC had won its final federal approval. The next day, opponents filed an appeal that led to a court issuing a temporary ban on construction in a 54-mile, undeveloped stretch of working timberland from The Forks to the Quebec border. NECEC and its contractors were suddenly forced to pivot to working on another segment of the project, expanding a corridor with existing utility poles on it.

But working out of the planned sequence added millions of dollars in costs. Part of the debate centered over whether those costs were linked directly to the legal challenge, ways to work around the pending mud season, or to get as much work done as possible before a referendum vote in November 2021 that was designed to stop the project.

The tall steel poles that carry the transmission lines were initially scheduled to be installed starting in May 2021, but that work was moved up to February. One witness that had insight into the reasons was Benjamin Beaulieu, a former project manager at Cianbro Corp. Maine-based Cianbro was partnering with Irby Construction of Richland, Mississippi, on the NECEC line, and is also an intervenor in the case.

Philip Coffin, an attorney representing Cianbro, had Beaulieu describe how the 100-foot-tall steel poles are delivered in sections, staged, and installed in the hilly, muddy terrain of western Maine. The poles are designed for specific sites. They can’t be randomly moved to other parts of the corridor and need to be transported on miles of heavy timber mats fabricated to prevent erosion damage in sensitive areas. This limited their ability to swap poles designed for Segment 1 to other locations.

Cianbro and Irby put up as many poles as they could in Segment 2 under these and other restraints, Beaulieu said, starting 22 days after Northern Clearing had started.


The contractors were aware of the referendum, Beaulieu said, but the work order changes stemmed from the permits they had, seasonal restraints, and the supply and quality control issues with the poles.

During cross-examination, Jeana McCormick, an attorney representing project opponents, produced emails in which executives raised concerns ranging from the inefficiency and extra costs of working out of sequence to the idea of not buying more poles until the results of the referendum were known.

Jurors also heard from Adam Desrosiers, a Central Maine Power vice president who was managing the NECEC project. He outlined his goals for getting the project underway as soon as possible.

Aside from being focused on meeting the project’s commercial operations date, Desrosiers said he wanted to retain the labor force that had been assembled and jobs promised to area communities. That’s why he pushed to move the start date from May 2021 to January, he said. And when construction was banned in Segment 1, the companies scrambled over a long weekend to plan work in Segment 2. Clearing started on Jan. 18, 2021, with the first pole set in February.

The $1 billion NECEC project would have a capacity of 1,200 megawatts, enough power for 1.2 million homes. Paid for by Massachusetts utility customers, the power line would help lower electricity prices in New England by introducing a new source of round-the-clock hydroelectricity from Quebec, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The agency granted the initial go-ahead permit in 2019.

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