Op-ed by J. Mason Morfit is a resident of Freeport. First in Portland Press
Mainers are increasingly anxious about climate change and the adverse effects it’s already bringing: more violent weather, warmer and more acidic seas threatening our fisheries, increased flooding and erosion along our coast, the spread of Lyme and other insect-borne diseases, invasive bugs destroying our forests, ticks eating our moose, etc. And if they’ve read journalist David Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming” (currently No. 3 on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list), they’re probably scared silly by what the future holds, as they should be.
Reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, the principal driver of climate change, is something we need to start doing now, and big time, if we want to protect ourselves, our children and our grandchildren from a world we don’t want to (and may not be able to) live in. To quote the first line of the book, “It is worse, much worse, than you think.”
So, many people may have initially been inclined to favor the New England Clean Energy Connect project being proposed by Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec. This 145-mile electrical transmission line would run from western Maine on the Canadian border to a substation in Lewiston, where it would connect to the regional grid. While the transmission line would cut a big, ugly swath through Maine, all the power would go to customers in Massachusetts.
CMP and Hydro-Quebec state that NECEC will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by importing supposedly “clean” hydropower from Quebec. But that hydropower would be clean (i.e., reduce greenhouse-gas emissions) only if it were new – in addition to hydropower that Hydro-Quebec is already generating or could be expected to generate in the normal course of business. Such power is called “incremental” power.
But according to testimony on behalf of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, as well as a study by the international consulting firm Energyzt, the contracts that Massachusetts utilities have signed with Hydro-Quebec contain no legal stipulations that would require Hydro-Quebec to deliver all incrementally clean power all the time. Hydro-Quebec could buy cheap power from other suppliers on its extended system who are using coal or gas, both “dirty” sources, and sell it at a premium to Massachusetts. (Such money-making arbitrage is Hydro-Quebec’s stated practice.)
Or it could reduce exports of clean power to other customers in its system, requiring those customers to buy dirty power elsewhere. Obviously, if you simply shuffle the location of greenhouse-gas emissions from one location to another, there has been no global reduction in climate-changing pollution. To claim otherwise is to engage in what’s known as “greenwashing.”
It’s instructive that, even if we buy CMP’s allegations that all the Hydro-Quebec power sent to NECEC will be squeaky clean, CMP claims only that greenhouse-gas emissions would be reduced in New England, not on a global basis, which is required to reduce the risks of climate change. (Contrary to what some of us might like to believe, New England does not exist in a self-contained bubble, atmospheric or otherwise.)
Unfortunately, the Maine Public Utilities Commission appears not to have devoted a lot of attention to the Massachusetts contracts that would permit Hydro-Quebec to follow a profit maximization strategy and send supposedly “clean” power to Massachusetts ratepayers. Nor does it appear to have acknowledged that, even if Hydro-Quebec sends truly incremental clean power to New England, it doesn’t necessarily achieve a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions on a global basis – and it may cause them to increase.
Dozens weigh in on whether to study greenhouse gas impact of CMP power line
That’s why Maine voters should support a bill recently introduced by state Sen. Brownie Carson. L.D. 640 would require the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to conduct an independent investigation of CMP’s claims that the proposed transmission line would have benefits for the climate through reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.
It’s essential that Maine (and Massachusetts) citizens find out whether NECEC will, in fact, significantly reduce the carbon pollution that’s changing our climate. If not, we’re not only having the wool pulled over our eyes by people who stand to make a lot of money by doing so, but we’re also in the very dangerous position of thinking we’re taking a positive step to help solve the climate crisis when, actually, we’re not. Deception is dangerous, but self-deception can be disastrous.