Court: Construction Can Proceed On Hydropower Corridor

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Construction can proceed on a 53-mile (85-kilometer) stretch of utility corridor that’s a critical part of a $1 billion project to bring Canadian hydropower to the New England grid, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request to delay construction while three conservation groups argued for a more strenuous environmental review by the federal government.

Thorn Dickinson, president and CEO of the project, called the court's decision “a victory for Maine’s clean energy future.”

“The clean energy corridor will eliminate over three million metric tons of dirty emission from the New England energy grid each year by replacing fossil fuels with clean hydropower,” he said in a statement.

The appeals court concluded the plaintiffs “failed to show a likelihood of success,” but the Natural Resources Council of Maine, one of the environmental groups that sued, vowed to continue fighting the project in federal court, said Nick Bennett, staff scientist for the group.

“We continue to think this is a bad deal for Maine, and that there would be no climate benefits, in spite of all the environmental destruction,” he said.

Construction on that segment in western Maine had been on hold, pending the court's decision, but construction was underway on other parts of the project, which runs 145 miles (233 kilometers) from the Canadian border to connect with the regional power grid in Lewiston, Maine.

The New England Clean Energy Connect would provide a conduit for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to reach the New England power grid. Much of the project would follow existing utility corridors but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of woods.

Supporters say the project, which would be fully funded by Massachusetts ratepayers to meet that state’s clean energy goals, will reduce greenhouse emissions and stabilize energy costs in the region. Critics say the environmental benefits are overstated and that it will destroy wilderness.

The Sierra Club and Appalachian Mountain Club, along with Natural Resources Council of Maine, are suing to force the Army Corps of Engineers, which approved the project, to conduct a more rigorous environmental impact statement instead of the less-stringent environmental assessment.

The Army Corps gave its approval in November. The project previously received approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Land Use Planning Commission and Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The final approval came in the form of a presidential permit issued in January from the U.S. Department of Energy, providing the green light for the interconnect at the Canadian border.

Supporters say the project will spur economic development as well as remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The Maine AFL-CIO on Thursday endorsed the project, noting it is already producing good-paying jobs for unionized workers clearing trees, setting pole foundations and doing other work.

The project is an opportunity to “not only reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but also to secure good-paying, family-sustaining, union jobs with benefits," said Robert Burr, business agent for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 4.

___

Associated Press writer Patrick Whittle contributed to this report from Portland.