The New England Clean Energy Connect will deliver renewable electricity to Maine and New England from Hydro-Québec (HQ); it will reduce climate emissions; it will substantially benefit Maine’s economy; it will conform to rigorous environmental standards. These are conclusions from exhaustive scientific study and exhaustive review by objective institutions tasked with safeguarding the public interest.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was established in 1913 to remove utility-permitting decisions from the political arena to one where laws could be impartially applied to facts. This reform was singularly successful, giving predictability needed to attract private investment in public infrastructure. A half century later, the environmental movement sought a similar model for environmental permitting, creating institutions like the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Without these guardians, Maine’s economy and environment would suffer because neither investors nor the public would be able to rely on the finality of their lawful decisions.

The PUC spent 18 months reviewing the Clean Energy Connect before its approval (affirmed by the Maine Supreme Court).  There were 31 intervenors, who were allowed to present expert testimony and analyses. After painstaking review, the unanimous PUC found that “. . . benefits from the development and operation of the NECEC to Maine ratepayers and citizens significantly outweigh the costs and detriments of the Project.”

The PUC expressly determined that the project “will result in reductions in overall [greenhouse gas] emissions through corresponding reductions of fossil fuel generation (primarily natural gas) in the region.” They examined HQ’s capacity to deliver this energy to New England without shifting power from other export markets and found “that the generation imported into New England over the NECEC is likely to be incremental at least to a large degree, and not, in any significant way, be simply diverted from other markets.”

After its 29-month review, the DEP set conditions that it calls “an unprecedented level of natural resource protection for transmission line construction in the State of Maine.” The DEP also notes, “It is important to emphasize that while remote, the area that [the new corridor] would traverse is not untouched wilderness, but instead mostly consists of intensively managed commercial timberland.” They conclude that, “Climate change, however, is the single greatest threat to Maine’s natural environment” and that the project’s impacts are “reasonable in light of the project purpose and its [greenhouse gas] benefits.”

The record also reflects how the Clean Energy Connect — entirely paid for by electricity customers in Massachusetts — results in positive financial impacts in Maine of more than a billion dollars, from wages, materials, direct energy deliveries and reduced electricity costs, customer rate relief, clean energy infrastructure and conservation of 40,000 acres. It is true, of course, that delivering the HQ power into New England will reduce profits of other generators, including fossil fuel generators, which explains their continuing attempts to defeat the project.

The conclusions of the Maine PUC and DEP are amply supported by research validating that Québec hydropower is clean energy. Peer-reviewed studies conclude that, while greenhouse gas emissions do increase immediately after reservoir creation, they decline to natural levels within four to eight years (a short period for infrastructure designed to last a century).

Moreover, opponents misleadingly compare HQ’s reservoirs to those in warmer climates, which are biologically more active and therefore produce a lot of methane: a potent greenhouse gas. By comparison, HQ’s reservoirs are in northern Quebec, a boreal climate, with less decomposition, and with waters that are far more oxygenated. This leads to a smaller production of methane and CO2 levels that are consistent with the region’s lakes, rivers, and streams.

Even within Quebec, reservoir emissions differ from one installation to another, and thus the basis of Bradford Hager’s reasoning: that emissions of a reservoir with a higher than average carbon footprint can be extrapolated to the entire system — and thus asserting that hydropower reservoir emissions are comparable to fossil fuel — is just bad science. When real emissions data from the actual HQ reservoirs are used, based on more than 500,000 field measurements and assessed in more than 100 published scientific papers, the greenhouse gas emissions from the HQ reservoir system are shown to be very small when compared to fossil fuel generation and comparable to those of other renewables.

The benefits of the Clean Energy Connect to Maine, the region and the planet are supported by expert findings of fact and peer-reviewed science. There is no meaningful evidence challenging these conclusions that hasn’t been considered and rejected.

Tom Welch, Esq. is former Chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission (1993-2005 and 2011-2014). Alain Tremblay, Ph.D., is Senior Environmental Adviser on Aquatic Ecosystems to Hydro-Québec.

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