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    Shocker: Opposition forms to Maine hydro plan

    20180405 West Forks, Maine Photo by Fred J. Field Russell Walters of Carrabasset Valley, Maine walked the shore of the Kennebec River in West Forks, Maine. He was walking to show visitors the area where a plan brings new high-voltage transmission lines across the pristine Kennebec River gorge near here. The lines would connect Hydro-Quebec to the New England grid. Walters is President of the rafting company Northern Outdoors. The Northern Pass project has collapsed, and now Massachusetts has turned to Maine as the way to make the project work. (Fred J. Field for The Boston Globe)
    Fred J. Field for The Boston Globe
    Russell Walters of Carrabasset Valley, Maine walked the shore of the Kennebec River in West Forks, Maine. Walters was showing visitors the area where a plan would bring new high-voltage transmission lines across the Kennebec River Gorge.

    Here’s a shocker: The state’s latest plan to obtain clean electricity from dams in Canada has run into opposition.

    In a recent report in the Globe, David Abel outlined the worries raised by Mainers, who expressed mixed feelings about an electric conduit for Massachusetts running through their communities. Some consider the towers and cables unsightly, and don’t want to host a superhighway for another state’s electricity. Others welcome the revenues the 145-mile transmission line would provide for towns along the route.

    The project still has permits left to obtain, which should provide an opportunity for supporters and opponents to air their concerns.


    Somewhere — in New Hampshire, to be exact — proponents of Northern Pass are chortling. That rival transmission project through the Granite State was the state’s first choice but became a lightning rod for controversy. Northern Pass maintained that the rivals would become just as divisive too, once they left the drawing boards and communities were confronted with the real possibility of power lines in their backyards. Looks like Northern Pass may have been onto something.

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    Hopefully, federal and state authorities will find a way to make the Maine transmission project work, since the 1,200 megawatts of hydropower the line would make available are crucial to reducing the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emissions. But the opposition — which mirrors the pushback against virtually any energy infrastructure — shows the difficulties that state energy policies, which are often built on best-case scenarios, can face. With enough pushback, the state’s initial hope of putting the transmission line in service by 2020 is at risk.

    Massachusetts is now weighing a second clean energy procurement, this one for offshore wind projects. Wind companies have been roaming Southeastern Massachusetts, promising speedy completion of offshore farms.

    As a technological matter, wind farms — and electric transmission lines — are mature technologies. Increasingly, the obstacles to building them are legal, economic, or political. The bottom line: Dividing up the offshore wind procurement, so that the whole project isn’t hanging on one company’s abililty to navigate those shoals, continues to look like a good idea.

    When the transmission line opens, Massachusetts will claw back the carbon-free energy it’s about to lose at the Pilgrim nuclear station — and then some. That helps Maine, too. It’s a message that should prevail, but it’ll be up to the line’s developer and proponents to make that case.