Bill requiring CMP get town approvals for NECEC divides Committee

Despite a third work session held May 22nd, the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology was still unable to agree on an emergency bill requiring CMP’s New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) receive voter approval from each municipality it intends to cross.

LD 1363, introduced this past March by Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) and several co-sponsors, would require that high-impact electric transmission line projects over 50 miles long receive a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” from the Maine PUC. The bill creates two requirements before such a certificate can be issued.

In addition to requiring each town it crosses approve the project through referendum, it also requires that the project provide “significant tangible public benefits” for the state and at least two of the municipalities it crosses. While defining “significant tangible public benefit” is left for the Maine PUC & DEP to decide, the bill provides some parameters. It requires, over a 20 year period, no less than 2% of a projects projected benefit for the companies involved.  Additionally, any assessment can not include property tax payments or temporary construction jobs.

Nearly 40 individuals provided testimony for the bill’s April 10th public hearing.  The bill was heard alongside LD 271An Act Regarding a Transmission and Distribution Utility’s Use of the Right of Eminent Domain To Locate Its Transmission Lines and LD 1383An Act To Amend Maine’s Municipal Land Use and Eminent Domain Laws Regarding Transmission and Distribution Utilities.  Many of those arguing for or against LD 1363, provided similar testimony for LD 271 & LD 1383 since all three are different attempts at the same goal.

Benjamin Dudly from Mainer’s For Clean Energy Jobs spoke against the bill arguing that the bill is an 11th hour disruption for a vital clean energy project. Dudley took issue with the provision excluding temporary line construction employment from any PUC analysis and questioned whether the expense for state mandated referendums would be covered by the municipality or the state.

The Maine Forest Products Council’s Patrick Strauch argued this sort of legislation undermines the established permitting system that businesses have come to expect. The idea that this bill will establish a dangerous precedent was echoed by Kim Lindlof, whom represented both Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and the Central Maine Growth Council.

Bryce Metrick, representing both Cianbro and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine‘s Governmental Affairs Committee, argued that meeting a carbon free and renewable energy future requires a stored energy source. Bryce argues that since nuclear & natural gas have been ruled out and because large scale battery technology isn’t ready, hydro-power is currently our only option for this type of energy source.

Hoping to stop this project from moving forward, dozens of citizens from across the state, many from the region directly affected, testified in favor LD 1363.

The position taken by some, including Joan Mueller of Pownal, is that policies pushing local renewable energy sources should be our priority, not continued large scale energy dependence. Others argued that these new lines are unnecessary and considered “elective”.

New Gloucester’s Debra May pointed out that New England’s clean energy demand could just as easily be accessed through Vermont instead of Maine and Farmington’s Darryl Wood reminded the committee that CMP has yet to go on record on if the NECEC project would actually reduce global greenhouse gas emissions or not.

Wilton resident, and former state senator, Tom Saviello, brought up established legal precedent based on the Maine Constitution’s Municipal Home Rule (Article VIII) and discussed two cases where courts sided with Maine towns because of that section. Saviello also discussed a bill that passed a couple of years ago granting more input from Unorganized Territory residents in the state’s wind permitting process.

Updates expected as this bill moves forward and more information becomes available.