New England Clean Energy Connect
The New England Clean Energy Connect is a proposed transmission line in Maine.
The New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) was selected in a Massachusetts process intended to bring in renewable energy to the state and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed powerline project would bring hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts using a 145-mile above-ground High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission line. The power line would run from Beattie Township along the Canadian border to an interconnection point in Lewiston, Maine. It would include 53.5 miles of a new, 150-foot-wide cleared corridor through undeveloped forest, while the remaining 91.5 miles would be co-located within existing transmission corridors but would entail widening of the corridor in many areas.
AMC is opposed to the NECEC transmission line as currently proposed and has four primary concerns:
- The significant scenic impact to the Kennebec Gorge, a nationally significant whitewater boating area whose value is recognized in a wide range of state laws and policies. On October 18, 2018, Central Maine Power notified Maine regulators that they now intend to bury the proposed transmission line under the Kennebec Gorge. While burying the line addresses our significant concern about visual impacts, AMC will be assessing other potential impacts of the proposed method for burial on natural resources.
- The increased scenic impact to the Appalachian Trail.
- The fragmenting impact of the new corridor through undeveloped forest of high ecological value and conservation interest.
- The lack of evidence that the project will provide real greenhouse gas reduction benefits.
AMC’s Opposition to New England Clean Energy Connect
Potential Impacts of The New England Clean Energy Connect
Scenic and Recreational Resource Impacts
The new HVDC corridor would cross the Kennebec Gorge, one of Maine’s crown jewels due to its whitewater paddling, fishing, scenic value, and other river-based recreational values. It draws approximately 10,000 individual boaters each year in addition to many thousands who experience the Gorge through commercially guided trips. On October 18, 2018, Central Maine Power notified Maine regulators that they now intend to bury the proposed transmission line under the Kennebec Gorge. AMC plans to seek out more information on CMP’s plan to bury the line to ensure it meets the highest environmental standards to protect the Kennebec Gorge. Of further concern is that the proposed corridor width and transmission line alignment are designed to accommodate a second transmission line in the future, so this future incremental impact must be considered as well when looking at the proposed project.
The NECEC as proposed would be located within an existing transmission corridor that already crosses the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) three times in less than a mile. However, the project would increase the scenic impact to the trail by widening the corridor and installing taller towers. Downplayed in the application and left unaddressed are the additional visual impacts to the AT that would occur from prominent AT viewpoints on Pleasant Pond Mountain and Moxie Bald Mountain as the line traverses the lowland between the two peaks.
Avangrid is proposing to relocate the AT to eliminate two of the crossings, which could potentially improve the trail experience if the move was to a suitable new corridor. However, Avangrid needs to collaborate directly with the local AT trail managers on this proposed relocation. Every effort should be made to avoid and minimize additional impacts to the important major summit viewpoints on this segment of the AT.
Landscape Level Visual Impacts
The visual impact on this relatively undeveloped landscape goes well beyond the Kennebec Gorge and Appalachian National Scenic National Trail. Numerous scenic waterbodies, streams, and cultural resources would also be visually impacted, including the Arnold Trail, Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway, Coburn Mountain, numerous remote and accessible ponds, Wyman Lake, Moxie Stream, the South Branch of the Moose River, and the Carabasset, Sandy, and mid-Kennebec rivers. Landscapes not dominated by human development and major industrial infrastructure are becoming rare, and this project as proposed cuts into the heart of one such area.
Forest Fragmentation and Ecological Impacts
The Western Maine Mountains region is part of the largest contiguous expanse of undeveloped forest in the eastern United States. It is an area of high conservation interest due to its ecological connectivity and climate change resilience. Carving a new corridor through this ecologically significant landscape is unacceptable, unnecessary, and avoidable. The impact of the line could be avoided and minimized by co-location along the major logging road through the area and using modern burial technology, as has been shown to be feasible in other projects.
The NECEC would provide Quebec hydropower to Massachusetts in response to an RFP process intended to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. However, expert testimony provided to the Maine Public Utilities Commission has shown there is no clear information demonstrating that the NECEC power intended for Massachusetts will not simply be diverted from other destinations, like Ontario or New York, leaving those areas to fill the gap with other, as yet to be determined, sources of energy. While the use of Canadian hydropower may reduce Massachusetts’s carbon footprint from an accounting perspective, it appears it would likely fail to reduce global atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, which is what all states, provinces, and countries urgently must do. Both Maine and Massachusetts regulators must be certain that this project will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions at levels claimed before locking the State and ratepayers into it.
AMC strongly urges Massachusetts to match its longtime leadership in greenhouse gas reduction with leadership in regional landscape protection by looking beyond its own backyard to effectively avoid, minimize, and – as a last resort – mitigate the impacts of energy development when importing power in its efforts to reduce global GHG emissions. Exporting the societal and environmental impacts of power generation and transmission without giving them proper review, due diligence, or compensation is short sighted and undermines the Commonwealth’s status as environmental leader.
The New England Clean Energy Connect proposal is currently being reviewed by the following agencies:
- Maine Public Utilities Commission
- Maine Department of Environmental Protect (DEP)
- Maine Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC)
AMC is a formal intervenor in the joint Maine DEP and Maine LUPC application process. Stay tuned for updates and opportunities for public input in the process.