The resounding victory last month for Question 1 raised questions about just how hard it would be to build the electricity transmission lines necessary to build a clean energy future.

Maine won’t have to wait long to find out.

State regulators this week put out a call for bids to construct a major transmission line connecting far northern Maine to the New England grid, as mandated by a law passed by the Legislature last year.

The request from the Public Utilities Commission asks for proposals for large-scale wind and solar power projects and the development of a biomass power plant in addition to the construction of the new line.

The electricity from the power-generation part of the project would be enough for hundreds of thousands of homes, and open the way for more.  The transmission line would send that power to the grid — where it could be used wherever the grid reaches.

Finally, northern Maine’s potential for producing clean energy could be realized, and an industry could be built around it. Construction of the new power generators would bring jobs, while a biomass plant would stabilize an important aspect of the forest products industry. Maintenance of the plants, and perhaps even manufacturing of items such as wind turbines, would keep the jobs there.

“This has been the holy grail of clean-energy development in Maine for well over a decade, and this has been the first opportunity to really try and make that a reality,” Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, told MainePublic.

It is an exciting opportunity to bring more renewable energy to the New England grid while creating jobs in an area of the state that needs them.

That’s also close to the same argument by proponents of the New England Clean Energy Connect project — and we saw how that went on Nov. 2, when a referendum stopping the NECEC won with nearly 60% of the vote.

There are reasons to believe this transmission line will be seen differently, however. While no specific route has been chosen yet, the geography of northeastern Maine, and the infrastructure already in place, mean that the line is less likely to go through sensitive areas than the NECEC.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, a major opponent of NECEC, is on board with this project. And while the communities along the CMP corridor soured on the project, the northern Maine line has been under consideration for years and is widely seen as beneficial.

In testimony to the Legislature earlier this year, one Aroostook County commissioner called it an “unparalleled opportunity,” while the president and CEO of Aroostook Partnership, a business and higher education group said, “People and businesses in Aroostook County have been hoping for exactly this kind of investment for decades.”

We hope the optimism is warranted. One year ago this week, Gov. Janet Mills set appropriately aggressive goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Maine, putting our state ahead of most others in what may be the most consequential policy fight around. It’s important that Maine meet those goals in order to show other states that it is possible.

But Maine’s emissions are just a drop in a very large bucket when it comes to the worldwide climate change.

Through projects like a transmission line through northern Maine, our state can contribute more to the effort to reduce emissions by helping other states in New England reach their goals, all while creating jobs and tax revenue for our communities.

Who’s going to say no to that?

 


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