Press Herald - In his July 1 letter to the editor, “Mainers will benefit from CMP line project,” Robert Harradon, a former employee of Central Maine Power, paints a rosy picture of the proposed CMP power line project known as New England Clean Energy Connect. In reality, nothing about the CMP project has anything to do with providing benefits to Maine.
The only reason it exists in the first place is because it’s a lucrative investment for two huge foreign utilities — Hydro-Quebec and Avangrid, CMP’s corporate parent. This project is all about serving Massachusetts politics. Based on a carved-out contract from Massachusetts, Hydro-Quebec touts that the transmission line and electricity sale is worth $10 billion to them. Wall Street analysts estimate CMP-Avangrid will earn around $60 million per year.
Maine today has a very valuable power generation industry that represents billions of dollars of investment, supports hundreds of jobs and pays millions in tax revenues in local communities across the state. We find it ironic that many of the purported economic benefits of the CMP-Avangrid project would come directly at this industry’s expense.
In fact, over the last two years Maine has had the lowest wholesale electricity prices in more than 15 years. That’s the price coming out of the power plant itself into a central trading hub. These prices have been driven by intense competition. What makes that surprising for many is that consumer bills have not fallen as a whole. That is largely due to the costs of transmission and local utility rates that have increased nearly 400 percent over the last 10 years.
As for reliability, Maine currently enjoys an overabundance of electricity production. We don’t need this $950 million project to keep the lights on or help recover faster after storms. Companies that own power plants in Maine already can’t get all of their electricity to southern New England load centers where it is needed most. That won’t change with CMP-Avangrid’s proposed line — it actually makes that situation worse.
Maine has one of the cleanest mixes of electric generation in the Northeast, with power plants in the state having cut carbon dioxide emissions 24 percent since 1990. The state generates a substantial amount of electricity using renewables including wind, solar, hydro and biomass, and has enormous additional potential. Almost all of the electricity Maine produces from fossil fuels is from some of the newest, cleanest, and most energy-efficient natural gas-fired power plants available. It’s a clean, reliable, cost-effective and diverse energy mix.
Counterintuitively, using the provincially owned hydro resources in Canada that Hydro-Quebec would use to supply Massachusetts won’t necessarily lower emissions. Appropriately examining this issue requires a look at it in the broader regional context in which electricity flows.
Two expert consultants have independently come to the same conclusion at the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Their analysis is quite technical, but the actual story is pretty simple: Hydro-Quebec would use existing dams to feed CMP’s extension cord. But Hydro-Quebec is already exporting as much power as it can because that’s how they make money to keep electricity prices low for their own citizens.
So, in order to supply Massachusetts, Hydro-Quebec would have to reduce its exports to other markets, like New York and Ontario. Those power grids will then have to backfill their supply needs, and that is likely to come from higher-emitting power generation.
Simply put, this project from CMP-Avangrid and Hydro Quebec is a bad deal for Maine. With no real economic, environmental or energy benefits for Maine, Massachusetts should find another way to meet its goals.
Dan Dolan is president of the New England Power Generators Association.