On November 2, Maine voters decided to support Question 1. This Citizen’s Initiative makes changes to state law regarding construction of electric transmission lines, including banning certain projects in Franklin and Somerset Counties and requiring legislative approval of projects on public lands harboring such transmission lines. While Acadia Center did not take a position on Question 1, we recognize that Maine citizens voted their intuition and conscience in the face of a barrage of conflicting messages and ads from New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) supporters and opposition.
The massive capital and planning necessary to transform buildings, transportation, and the electricity grid over the next three decades necessitates major reforms to expand heating and transportation electrification; increase clean energy generation, storage, and delivery of offshore wind and solar; and oversee innovate grid modernization. Acadia Center aims to ensure that the Northeast region rapidly decarbonizes its energy system in line with United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations and will continue to work to build a comprehensive zero-carbon energy system by focusing on and prioritizing clean energy solutions, local clean energy resources, deep energy efficiency, utility reform, transportation improvements and innovations, and the phase-out of fossil fuels. Following the success of Question 1, Acadia Center will continue to hold Central Maine Power (CMP), Hydro-Quebec (HQ), and the Massachusetts utilities to their carbon-reduction and clean energy commitments prior to considering its full and unqualified support for NECEC, which will continue to face legal, policy, and political challenges even after the vote.
As Acadia Center examined the path to a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, it considered the potential for hydroelectric energy from existing impoundments to replace some of the fossil fuels used in the Northeast’s energy mix. The Northeast is currently heavily reliant on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, for electricity generation. According to multiple studies, when electricity comes from excess generation at existing hydro impoundments, it results in dramatically lower carbon emissions than electricity generated by fossil fuels. Beyond the question of whether carbon emissions from hydro are lower, Acadia Center has been open to hydropower imports from existing hydro projects, but only if specific critical conditions are met and expectations fulfilled. Because these conditions and expectations were not definitely met, Acadia Center did not endorse either the energy contract between Hydro-Quebec and Massachusetts utilities or the NECEC line.
In January 2019, Acadia Center joined a multiparty settlement to impose economic and consumer protection conditions on CMP in the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s (MPUC) proceeding on the NECEC transmission line. In that proceeding, Acadia Center joined the settlement for a certificate of public need and necessity (CPCN) for the NECEC line to strengthen Maine’s economy, protect consumers, and deliver a clean energy future for the state. However, Acadia Center stated that it would only support the line and the contract between HQ and Massachusetts utilities if, and only if, CMP and HQ also:
- Ensured the project advances state and regional climate goals by verifying the emission reductions expected from the contract over its lifetime; and
- Thoughtfully and sensitively protect the Western Maine landscape from unacceptable siting impacts.
Contrary to Acadia Center’s sustained advocacy for transparency and accountability, Massachusetts regulators approved a contract that fails to hold HQ responsible for verifying that electricity deliveries over the NECEC line, if permitted, will continue to produce real, incremental climate benefits over the life of the contract. However, Acadia Center believes that the NECEC does provide real and meaningful benefits to Maine citizens and the climate. For example, earlier this year, Efficiency Maine extended its electric vehicle (EV) rebate program — the EV Accelerator Program — for another year using a one-time $5 million payment it received from the settlement of the NECEC project. The funds will help defray the cost of approximately 2,500 more EV purchases with a quarter of the funds reserved for income-eligible buyers. Efficiency Maine estimates the vehicles added with these funds can save Maine drivers a total of $2 million per year in fuel costs, and more than $18 million over the lifetime of the vehicles. Those same vehicles will prevent an estimated 82,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted over the course of their on-road lifetimes.
A second element of the CPCN settlement sent $1.5 million to Efficiency Maine to promote high-performance heat pump systems in low- and moderate-income homes and in K-12 schools. Efficiency Maine will receive another $13.5 million from the settlement for this heat pump initiative. A third element of the settlement sends $2.5 million to Efficiency Maine to subsidize installation of heat pump water heaters, heat pumps, and weatherization in qualified low-income homes. A fourth element of the settlement allocates $1.5 million to develop public high-speed EV chargers in Lewiston-Auburn, Fairfield, Newport, Bangor, Ellsworth and Belfast. An additional $8.5 million in settlement funds are allocated to building out Maine’s public EV charger network over the next five years. Another part of the fund will help perform an analysis of how the Northeast can achieve economy-wide decarbonization of zero emissions by 2050, as called for in the Maine climate action plan and the IPCC.
Acadia Center is also closely monitoring the PUC’s implementation of LD 1682, a key initiative that we prioritized in the 130th Legislature and was enacted into statute. For the first time ever, the PUC must consider greenhouse gas reductions and compliance with Maine’s climate statute in its decision-making. If this law had been in effect when the PUC was considering the NECEC permit, perhaps Commissioners would have ensured that GHG emission reductions promised under the project were more robust, measurable, and verifiable. Whether that would have swayed the final permit decision is unknown, but Acadia Center believes the NECEC project was made stronger through broadband, EV, infrastructure, and heat pump provisions and the potential that the NECEC corridor could be a real shot in the arm to reduce emissions throughout the Northeast. Now, future PUC decision will help save ratepayers money, improve equity and environmental justice outcomes, and support decarbonization.
For more information:
Jeff Marks, Maine Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 207.236.6470 ext. 304