Deep State: Why the Deeply Unpopular CMP Power-Line Corridor Through the North Woods May Nevertheless Be Built

Deep State: Why the Deeply Unpopular CMP Power-Line Corridor Through the North Woods May Nevertheless Be Built

Thursday, April 18, 2019 6:53 AM
 

Whether CMP’s giant transmission line should be built through the Maine North Woods — a policy question — is being debated widely. But less has been publicly discussed about the politics of the battle. Who’s fighting whom, and who’s likely to win? That’s the subject of this two-part series.

PART ONE:

Not the usual opponents

Last week the state Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved Central Maine Power Co.’s plan to cut a huge, high-voltage transmission-line corridor southeast from the Canadian border through 53 miles of the North Woods near Jackman. The corridor would be 150 feet wide but eventually could be doubled in width.

The line would then extend its 95-foot towers for another 92 miles south along existing, widened CMP rights-of-way to connect to the New England power grid at Lewiston. It would bring 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts. ...


In the background on this issue, CMP itself is unpopular because of months of questionable electric bills sent to thousands of customers that have resulted in PUC investigations and a lawsuit alleging fraud. Many customers also have felt the company’s responses to power outages have been inadequate. Reacting to these criticisms, CMP has apologized a little and denied a lot. A recent Bangor Daily News report revealed that the billing problems are continuing.

Hardly adding to its popularity, CMP is no longer CMP, in the sense that it has become a possession of the global corporate giant Iberdrola, headquartered in Bilbao, Spain. ...

A sore point also is that Maine would get none of the new power from Canada, though the state might benefit if the project lowers the price of electricity in New England by replacing higher-priced fossil-fuel plants. Plus, after demands from various interest groups and state officials, CMP agreed during the PUC proceedings to provide $258 million worth of miscellaneous benefits to Maine people over 40 years. ...

Business versus environmentalists?

This battle is not typical. Both the business community and environmentalists are divided. ...

Republicans versus Democrats?

James Melcher, a political-science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, said the corridor issue “doesn’t break down in a clean line” between liberals and conservatives. That’s an understatement. For an environmental issue, to have 71 percent of Republicans oppose the project statewide, as the Critical Insights poll found, compared to 56 percent of Democrats, is nothing short of startling. ...

Urban versus rural?

Professor Melcher told me he felt “an awful lot” of the opposition “has to do with the energy going to Massachusetts.” And many people “don’t like the aesthetics” of a giant power line in the North Woods.

These are factors, for sure, but the fact that there’s such deep, bipartisan opposition in rural Franklin and Somerset counties compared to the more urban and suburban southern counties (though it’s unpopular there, too) is revealing of something more profound.

One corridor adversary, Jonathan Carter, the former Green Party candidate for governor — who lives in the shadow of the western mountains near North New Portland — has thoughts on this unusual political fight.

Carter, a botanist, bemoans that environmental battles in Maine and elsewhere are for the most part about development of what’s left of the environment and what trade-offs can be obtained rather than about conservation and preservation. He asks: Why not make more investments to lower electrical consumption? Why not have more public transportation?

“There’s no room for trade-offs anymore,” he said, about global warming — rather than big windmills and transmission lines feeding consumption and destroying the wilds, the forest should be kept as intact as possible because trees massively soak up carbon dioxide. ...

Although in Maine there are development-restriction easements on some of the “working forest,” and we now have the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the society-changing conservation efforts that Carter argues for are not much discussed. No one is asking Massachusetts citizens, for example, to use less energy as an alternative to building the transmission line to feed their energy appetite.

But the rural Maine people so opposed to the corridor unapologetically want to conserve some of what’s left of “the old Maine,” as the gentleman from Yarmouth dismissively put it. They are conservatives in the best sense. Yes, aesthetics is part of it. And maybe in the context of fighting global warming, conservation and preservation are not such bad ideas.

 

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