Maine Audubon is very concerned by Central Maine Power’s (CMP) New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project due to the impact the project as proposed would have on Maine wildlife and habitat — as well as a marked lack of evidence that the project actually offers climate benefits. We strongly urge the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to demand clear evidence this project will deliver energy from a source that will result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions before finalizing any contract with CMP. Should this evidence be realized, we expect CMP to set NECEC as the gold-standard of environmentally-conscious planning, construction, maintenance, and mitigation.
NECEC is a proposed 145-mile transmission line from Beattie Township on the Quebec border to Lewiston, running largely through the Kennebec Valley and the foothills of Maine’s Western Mountains. The project is a response to a request for proposals from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to fulfill their renewable energy investment goals. NECEC would deliver 1,200 megawatts of electricity generated by hydropower projects in Quebec. The proposed project would comprise traditional above-ground towers that would follow a path largely along an existing transmission corridor, with the exception of 53.5 miles in Somerset County that would be located in virgin rights of way requiring significant clearing of forest land.
NECEC, as proposed, would negatively affect wildlife by permanently dissecting large, intact forest ecosystems and waterways and further threatening those ecosystems through habitat loss and degradation. The proposed corridor would require significant clearing through sensitive habitat, including habitat for rare species like Canada Lynx, Bicknell’s Thrush, and Northern Spring Salamander, as well as ecologically and economically important species like Brook Trout and White-tailed Deer. The proposal would affect more than 1,000 acres of wetland, cross 115 streams and scores of vernal pools, and degrade approximately 20 acres of inland waterfowl and wading bird habitat.
The myriad impacts to wildlife by NECEC as proposed can only be balanced by clear evidence that the project will result in a net reduction of greenhouse emissions, as well as measurable efforts by CMP to avoid, minimize, and mitigate those impacts. We expect CMP to avoid on-the-ground ecological resources and potentially reroute the project based on complete ecological surveys and the availability of collocation with existing roadways. Where avoidance is genuinely impracticable, we expect CMP to minimize wildlife impacts by following best practices and performance standards, such as adding flight diverters to reduce bird collisions, cleaning construction equipment between sites to avoid the introduction of invasive plant species, reducing or eliminating the use of herbicides, and implementing Stream Smart practices at stream crossings. Finally, we expect CMP to compensate for unavoidable impacts through a robust contribution to the Maine Natural Resource Conservation Program; through performing pre-construction, post-construction, and future surveys to measure impacts; as well as through the permanent protection of habitat for species impacted by NECEC. CMP’s Maine Power Reliability Project, the largest construction project ever completed in Maine and a project with less impact than NECEC, should serve as CMP’s compensation starting point.
While Maine Audubon applauds Massachusetts’ efforts to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, we have yet to see evidence that NECEC will serve to meet those goals. In the absence of appreciable climate benefits, we believe this project is not worth the substantial costs it imposes on Maine’s wildlife and habitat. Should evidence of such benefits emerge, we believe this project would only be viable if accompanied by a genuine effort to avoid and minimize natural resource impacts and a robust compensation package to benefit Maine’s wildlife and habitat.