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Central Maine Power could resume work on transmission line after winning 9-0 verdict in jury trial

Workers connect a section of the first pole of Central Maine Power's controversial hydropower transmission corridor, Feb. 9, 2021, near The Forks, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
Workers connect a section of the first pole of Central Maine Power's controversial hydropower transmission corridor, Feb. 9, 2021, near The Forks, Maine.

A powerline that Central Maine Power and its partners hoped to develop in northwest Maine was rejected by voters in a 2021 referendum. But it may come back to life after a unanimous jury verdict Thursday.

The court case involved the project known as New England Clean Energy Connect, a billion-dollar 145-mile powerline from the Quebec/Maine border to Lewiston. About 50 miles would travel through the Maine woods.

Proponents say it would deliver renewable energy from Hydro Quebec dams to Massachusetts, which has been seeking clean energy contracts. Opponents question its environmental benefits, and criticize its impacts on the Maine woods.

In a 2021 referendum, Maine voters rejected the project.

CMP's parent company Avangrid then sued the state, saying they had made sufficient progress to establish a so-called vested rights claim. Essentially, they argued, they had made sufficient progress on the transmission line before the referendum to give them the right to finish it.

During a week-long trial, jurors were not asked to consider the environmental or economic merits of the project. Instead, only question for them was whether the project developers were acting in good faith when they cleared land and erected poles, or whether they expedited the project in order to establish vested rights specifically to thwart the referendum.

On Thursday morning after deliberating less than three hours, the jury reached a unanimous verdict in favor of CMP.

In a statement, Avangrid senior vice president Scott Mahoney said, “The jury’s unanimous verdict affirms the prior rulings of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that the New England Clean Energy Connect project may lawfully proceed. Even after repeated delays and the costs caused by the change in law, the NECEC project remains the best way to bring low-cost renewable energy to Maine and New England while removing millions of metric tons of carbon from our atmosphere each year.”

And Anne C. George, vice president of ISO New England, which manages the regional electrical grid, released a statement reading, “We are pleased that this project can continue to move forward. The New England states’ ambitious climate goals will require building significant amounts of new infrastructure in a region where building infrastructure has been difficult."

The Maine attorney general's office did not comment on its loss.

But Colin Durrant of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an intervenor for the defense, called the project, "a shell game that shifts existing energy for maximum profit."

And he said the decision bucks the intent of Maine voters.

"We believe that voters should wield more power than corporations, and we also think that Maine voters got it right when they overwhelmingly rejected the CMP corridor because it was a bad deal for Maine," Durrant said.

Project opponents say they are considering their next steps.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.
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