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Delayed US-Canada hydro project gets go-ahead

2023-06-05 21:29:48 [Press center6] source:The New York Times

An energy project that sparked an uproar has been given the go-ahead in Maine after a jury ruled a referendum on the proposal was unconstitutional.

Proponents say it would eliminate over three million metric tonnes of carbon emissions every year.

But the project, which connected Canadian hydropower to New England via Maine, was controversial.

Concerned for its environmental and economic impact, Mainers voted to cancel its permits in 2021.

On Thursday, a jury in a civil suit unanimously ruled those permits were still valid because construction had already begun at the time of the referendum, which was the second-largest in Maine's history.

Funded by utility company Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power (CMP), which is owned by the Spanish energy giant Avangrid, the New England Energy Connect (NECEC) had received final approvals, including a Presidential Permit from the US Department of Energy.

Construction on the $1bn (£800m) project began in January 2021, despite court challenges.

Proponents of the project say the route through Maine is the shortest path and most environmentally sound way to connect Quebec, where the hydropower is generated, to Massachusetts, a burgeoning market for green energy.

But several local groups, and competing energy companies, opposed it.

"We're giving up a lot for getting nothing," Tom Saviello, a former state senator, told the BBC last year.

Environmental groups also challenged the permits over concerns about the project's impact on Maine's North Woods.

In November 2021, the state held a referendum on whether the project should be cancelled. More than 400,000 people showed up to vote - a huge turnout for a state with a population of 1.3 million.

Last August, the state's Supreme Court weighed in on the case, ruling that the referendum could not be retroactively applied if CMP had vested rights, kicking it back to a lower court to determine the extent of those rights.

Thursday's ruling sided with CMP, who had already spent $450m on construction before the project was halted.

"Even after repeated delays and the costs caused by the change in law, the NECEC project remains the best way to bring low-cost renewable energy to Maine and New England while removing millions of metric tons of carbon from our atmosphere each year," Avangrid said in a statement after the ruling.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, who opposed the project, told Bangor Daily News it was "disappointed in today's outcome and remains sharply focused on achieving a just and equitable clean energy future that works for all Mainers".

(editor-in-charge:Press center2)

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