Maine’s highest court breathes new life into Hydro-Quebec’s energy project
Maine’s highest court on Tuesday breathed new life into a $1 billion transmission line that aims to serve as a conduit for Canadian hydroelectricity, ruling that a statewide vote reprimanding the project was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the retroactive nature of last year’s referendum violated the project developer’s constitutional rights, sending him back to a lower court for further proceedings.
The court did not rule in a separate case involving a lease for a 1-mile portion of the proposed power line that crosses state land.
Central Maine Power’s parent company and Hydro-Quebec have teamed up on the project that would provide up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydroelectricity. That’s enough electricity for 1 million homes.
Most of the proposed 145-mile (233-kilometer) transmission line would be built along existing corridors, but a new 53-mile (85-kilometer) section was needed to reach the Canadian border.
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Workers were already cutting down trees and laying poles when the governor called for work to be suspended after the referendum. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection later suspended his permit, but that could be overturned depending on the outcome of the legal proceedings.
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The high court has been asked to weigh in on two separate lawsuits. Developers sought to declare the November 2021 referendum unconstitutional while another lawsuit involved a lease allowing transmission lines to cross a short stretch of state-owned land.
Proponents say bold projects like this one, funded by Massachusetts taxpayers, are needed to fight climate change and bring additional electricity to a region heavily reliant on natural gas, which can lead to higher energy costs.
Critics say the project’s environmental benefits are overstated — and that it would harm western Maine’s forests.
It was the second time the Supreme Judicial Court had been asked to rule on a referendum to kill the project. The first referendum proposal was never put on the ballot after the court raised constitutional concerns.
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Although the project is funded by Massachusetts taxpayers, introducing such a large amount of electricity into the grid would serve to stabilize or reduce electricity rates for all consumers, the developers say.
The referendum on the project was the most expensive in Maine history, surpassing $90 million and underscoring deep divisions.
The high-stakes campaign has put environmental and conservation groups at odds, and pitted utilities backing the project against fossil-fuel plant operators who stand to lose money.
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