Work on power line for Mass. electric grid continues despite emphatic vote in Maine

A WORKER inspects a Central Maine Power electricity corridor that has been widened to make way for new utility poles, April 26, 2021, near Bingham, Maine. Voters rejected a $1 billion transmission line but that is not the end of the polarizing project in the woods of western Maine. / AP FILE PHOTO/ROBERT F. BUKATY

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) Voters overwhelmingly rejected a $1 billion electric transmission line that is already under construction, but that doesn’t spell the end of the polarizing project in the woods of western Maine.

Workers reported for duty on construction of the power line as usual Wednesday, despite the outcome of the vote.

A lawsuit is expected soon to challenge the referendum’s constitutionality, and parties are awaiting a supreme court decision on 1-mile portion of state land that is part of the project. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is deciding whether to revoke the project’s permit.

“While the outcome of this election is disappointing, it is not the end of the road and we will continue to advocate for this historic and important clean energy project,” Central Maine Power’s corporate parent, Avangrid, said in a statement Wednesday.

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The 145-mile power line would serve as a conduit for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower and would be fully funded by ratepayers in Massachusetts. Most of it would be built along existing corridors but a new 53-mile section is being cut through the woods to reach the Canadian border.

Supporters contend the renewable energy — enough to to power 1 million homes — will remove carbon from the atmosphere and stabilize energy prices, benefiting the entire region.

Critics say that the environmental benefits are overstated and that the project would forever change the character of the forests.

The vote came as global leaders gathered to address climate change at a U.N. summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow, where governments and businesses sought bold solutions to the problem.

In Maine, voters signaled their disapproval of the project Tuesday with nearly 60% of voters voting to spike the project.

It was the second referendum attempt on the New England Clean Energy Connect. The first referendum was not allowed to appear on the ballot after it was deemed unconstitutional.

Supporter of the project plan to challenge the constitutionality of Tuesday’s referendum, as well.

Orlando Delogu, professor emeritus at the University of Maine Law School, said “ex post facto” laws, which retroactively target something that was previously legal, violate the Maine Constitution.

“I like Avangrid’s chance of prevailing in the final analysis,” said Delogu, who supports the project.

David Sharp is a reporter for The Associated Press.

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