PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Gov. Janet Mills is throwing her support behind a 145-mile transmission line across western Maine to supply Canadian hydropower to electricity consumers in Massachusetts, citing economic and environmental benefits under a sweetened proposal by Central Maine Power.
The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, lower carbon emissions and reduce electricity costs across the region — at no cost to Mainers, said Mills, a Democrat.
At the same time, a new proposal filed with state regulators Thursday includes $258 million in incentives that would boost the number of electric vehicle charging stations, subsidize heat pumps, improve rural high-speed internet, and help low-income ratepayers.
"This stipulation includes substantial benefits to the Maine economy, substantial benefits to Maine ratepayers and substantial benefits in our efforts to combat climate change," Mills said.
The Central Maine Power project would provide a conduit for electricity produced by Hydro-Quebec to reach Massachusetts to meet its green energy goals. It was embraced by Massachusetts officials after New Hampshire regulators pulled the plug on the controversial Northern Pass Project.
The New England Clean Energy Connect calls for building a high-voltage power line from Mount Beattie Township, Maine, on the Canadian border to the regional power grid in Lewiston, Maine.
Much of the project calls for widening existing corridors, but a new swath would be cut through a 50-mile segment of wilderness in western Maine. CMP already agreed to tunnel underneath the Kennebec River Gorge because of concerns raised by environmentalists.
Supporters say the project would provide electricity for 1 million homes and drive down electricity rates for all of New England.
Critics say it would spoil vast tracts of wilderness and harm Maine's homegrown green power initiatives, like solar and wind power. The Natural Resources Council of Maine contends the project has failed to show that there would be a reduction in greenhouse emissions.
"This massive corridor would cause large-scale damage to Maine's North Woods, would not reduce carbon pollution and could block local clean energy projects that would provide real jobs and benefits for Mainers," said Dylan Voorhees, a leader of the council.
Addressing growing criticism of the proposal, CMP has been working with behind the scenes for several weeks to sweeten the pot to win over critics and a skeptical governor.
On Thursday, CMP filed a "stipulation" with incentives including $140 million for rate relief for retail customers, $50 million for low-income energy customers, $15 million to subsidize heat pump purchases and $15 million for electric cars and charging stations.
The new incentives were enough for Mills to authorize her energy office to support the proposal. Also signing on to the proposal was the Conservation Law Foundation, a major environmental group that had vehemently opposed the Northern Pass Project in New Hampshire.
Speaking to reporters departing for the National Governor's Association meeting, Mills said she believes the project will win a certificate of public need and necessity by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. But there will be further review by the PUC and other state and federal agencies.
She said an independent consultant, London Economics International LLC, concluded carbon dioxide emissions would be lowered by 3.6 million metric tons and ratepayers would save $20 million to $40 million per year.
Holding up a cube of carbon, she said the carbon reduction would amount to 80 million pounds. "Eighty million of these one-pound cubes of carbon — no longer emitted into our atmosphere. To me that's significant," she said.