The fight over the so-called New England Clean Energy Connect project reflects the difficulty that developers face nationwide in siting new transmission lines. Many more of these must be built in the coming decades to modernize the nation’s creaking grid systems and connect farflung renewable energy sources to population centers.
Some 59% of Maine voters rejected the project, with nearly 90% of ballot stations reporting by Wednesday morning, according to local media outlets.
NECEC, a project of energy company Avangrid (NYSE:AGR), was meant to bring some 1,200 megawatts of Quebec hydropower to New England along a new 145-mile transmission line through Maine’s northern forests. More than three quarters of the corridor has already been cleared with about 100 poles installed, Avangrid said last week.
Supporters of the project, including Avangrid utility Central Maine Power and HydroQuebec, billed it as a way to help New England states and the country fight climate change, since hydropower production emits no greenhouse gas emissions.
But opponents, supported by U.S. power company NextEra which has competing generating projects in New England, argued that the line would cause permanent damage to Maine’s north woods and hurt the region’s tourism industry.
The fight for votes cost both sides combined nearly $100 million, making it the most expensive referendum question in Maine’s history.
The project was first proposed in Maine in 2017 after a previous proposal to run a transmission line through New Hampshire was blocked by local opposition. It received a series of state and federal permits between 2019 and 2021 and began construction in early 2021.