Three key reasons why Mass. Sierra Club chapter was among project’s foes
I read with interest Sabrina Shankman’s recent article, which discusses the successful ballot measure to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect project transmission line through Maine. The article is accurate in saying that the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club does not support this project; however, our reasons for objecting to the transmission line were not included in the article, so let me explain.
There are three vital reasons why the Sierra Club chapter opposes the Central Maine Power proposal to bring hydropower from Canada through Maine to supply Massachusetts. We have fought the project for years.
First, we cannot supply Massachusetts electricity needs on the backs of Indigenous people and add to the social and environmental injustices suffered by native communities. The Sierra Club supports building a sustainable economy with a just transition. Massachusetts has dragged its feet on scaling up solar and offshore wind for a decade, and to say that we can meet our goals only by destroying homelands to the north is inaccurate.
Second, hydroelectric mega-dams poison and degrade the environment. These dams produce methyl mercury. This mercury contamination poisons the ecosystem and enters the food chain. Mercury toxins cause significant public health and environmental problems because methyl mercury easily enters the bloodstream and affects the brains of animals and humans. This is just one of many ecologically destructive consequences of mega-dam construction.
Third, Massachusetts has more than enough local resources in offshore wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency to power the state as a zero emissions economy. In fact, when all is finished, Massachusetts will be an energy exporter. Why would we lock Massachusetts ratepayers into decades of expensive unjust electricity that destroys the lands and homes of our neighbors to the north?
Our position against New England Clean Energy Connect aligns with our mission, which is to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment, and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.
Sierra Club Massachusetts
Mainers don’t like feeling used
Sabrina Shankman’s Nov. 2 front-page article, “Maine vote imperils climate bid by Mass.,” reported on Maine’s referendum Ballot Question 1. The question asked Maine’s voters to decide the fate of a transmission line to be constructed running from Canada through 145 miles of Maine wilderness to New England’s power grid. Shankman noted on the eve of the tally that “recent polling in Maine suggests voters are inclined to kill the project.” She cited a Harvard Business School energy economist who opined that should Maine voters scuttle the transmission line, Massachusetts’ effort to stop global warming would be adversely affected.
Shankman wrote a follow-up front-page article in the Nov. 4 edition, ”Power line loss in Maine vote echoes in Mass.” She reported that the transmission line, already under construction for months, “was dealt a serious blow . . . when 60 percent of Maine voters approved Ballot Question 1 to kill the power line.” As a direct result of the vote, Massachusetts would not be receiving electricity from the project by December 2023, as had been expected.
What Shankman’s articles failed to underscore is that the project gives Mainers very little in return for losing a pristine wilderness area. The transmission line (besides destroying thousands of carbon absorbing trees) will deliver power overwhelmingly to Massachusetts, not to Maine.
For more than 100 years, Maine was merely a province of Massachusetts, and not a state itself. During that period, Massachusetts profited from Maine’s natural resources, such as timber and fishing. By their vote on Question 1, Mainers simply refused to allow their state’s natural resources to be used again by Massachusetts without just compensation.
States of the region used to be better at cooperation over energy
I write regarding Maine voters’ rejection of the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line. For many decades, the New England states and their utilities cooperated in developing the region’s electric infrastructure. In 1965, the New England Power Pool was formed to coordinate regional planning of the electric generation and transmission infrastructure in New England. During the 1970s and 1980s, New England utilities and their regulators cooperated to build several jointly owned nuclear power plants and supporting transmission infrastructure, sharing the costs and benefits across the region. Phase 2 of the high-voltage transmission line connecting Quebec with New England was another cooperative project to increase access to low-cost hydroelectric supplies, which again shared the costs and benefits of the project across the region. Despite some local opposition, it was completed relatively quickly and efficiently. It was energized in 1990.
This cooperative approach to planning, developing, and paying for major electric power infrastructure projects was successful. However, despite the fact that five of the six New England states (New Hampshire is the outlier) have similar electricity sector decarbonization goals, each state has decided to pursue these goals separately. Accordingly, the New England Clean Energy Connect project is perceived in Maine as an extension cord linking Quebec with Massachusetts, leaving Maine with any adverse impacts of the line there but few of the benefits.
The planning and cost allocation procedures that were implemented by the New England Independent System Operator (ISO New England, which largely replaced the New England Power Pool in 1997), and that were supported in turn by flawed planning and cost allocation regulations implemented by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, have undermined regional cooperation to achieve deep decarbonization goals. New England should return to the cooperative approach, equitably sharing the benefits and costs of the generation and transmission projects needed to achieve decarbonization goals efficiently.
Paul L. Joskow
The writer is a professor of economics at MIT and president emeritus of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He recently published a paper on supporting deep decarbonization of electricity sectors and overcoming barriers to intraregional and interregional transmission capacity.