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InvestmentsBattle in Maine woods reflects challenge for U.S. clean power ambitions By...

Battle in Maine woods reflects challenge for U.S. clean power ambitions By Reuters

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© Reuters. Workers set up the footing for a brand new pole for transmission strains for the New England Clean Energy Connect undertaking (often known as the Clean Energy Corridor), which can carry hydroelectric power to the New England power grid, in Moscow, Maine, U.S., October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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By Richard Valdmanis and Nichola Groom

BINGHAM, Maine (Reuters) – Evelyn and Bruce Beane love the wild nation that surrounds them in this tiny city on the Kennebec River, skirted by miles of mountains and forested by birch, maple and pine.

So when builders arrived right here a couple of years in the past asking their help for a power transmission undertaking that might minimize by means of close by woods to carry Canadian hydropower into New England, they mentioned no.

“This is where people come to get away from power lines,” mentioned Evelyn, 65, standing on the porch of the couple’s residence as logging vans, pickups, and hunters on ATVs handed alongside the street. “We don’t want it to turn into everywhere else.”

The Beanes had been among the many greater than 230,000 Mainers who voted to reject the 145-mile (233 km) New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) undertaking in a referendum this week, bringing an obvious finish to a years-long battle over the 1,200-megawatt line that had pitted clean vitality advocates in opposition to locals looking for to protect the state’s woodlands.

The destiny of the undertaking – billed by its proponents as a part of the answer to local weather change https://www.reuters.com/business/cop – reflects the issue confronted by builders nationwide in siting new transmission strains, many extra of which have to be constructed to modernize creaking grid programs and join far-flung renewable vitality sources.

No one appears to need the tasks to be sited anyplace close to them.

“If this type of project can’t get through, good luck getting others through,” Dennis Arriola, CEO of vitality companies and supply firm Avangrid (NYSE:) Inc, which controls the undertaking, mentioned in an interview earlier this yr.

That is an issue for the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, which has made modernizing the nation’s electrical transmission programs a key aspect of its plan to decarbonize the U.S. power sector by 2035. It has earmarked billions of {dollars} for the trouble in its White House infrastructure bundle being debated by Congress.

Lots extra money could also be wanted. Consultancy Marsh & McLennan has estimated greater than 140,000 miles of transmission strains have to be put in in the following three a long time to satisfy the nation’s vitality wants, at a value of about $700 billion.

But of the roughly 20 high-voltage transmission tasks now in growth throughout the nation, a number of face siting challenges. The $3 billion TransWest Express line to ship wind power from Wyoming to Las Vegas, for instance, is hung up in court docket after a land proprietor alongside its route obtained a federal conservation easement that might block its development.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm mentioned the Biden administration is conscious of the siting points for transmission tasks and is methods the federal authorities can get entangled. “There are an awful lot of lines that have been permitted and that just need that extra push to get over the finish line,” she advised reporters on a convention name from the worldwide local weather convention in Glasgow.

The Maine transmission hall was first proposed in 2017 after a earlier proposal by means of New Hampshire was blocked by native opposition. Avangrid has already spent $400 million clearing land and putting in poles for the Maine undertaking after securing federal and state permits.

Avangrid mentioned it might preserve combating for the undertaking regardless of the election end result, and swiftly filed a lawsuit in a Maine court docket on Wednesday.

‘THIS ISN’T THE WAY’

Bingham’s cluster of worn-out picket houses, fuel stations and wilderness outfitters has been a middle of opposition to the NECEC undertaking for months, with most of the buildings posting indicators opposing it in their yards. One home hung plywood boards carrying messages in spray paint: “Stop FOREIGN INTRUSION on AMERICAN SOIL,” and “Nothing clean about NECEC.”

The homegrown really feel of the opposition belies the truth that company pursuits on each side spent tens of tens of millions of {dollars} on their campaigns, making it the costliest referendum battle in Maine historical past. U.S. power firm NextEra Energy Inc (NYSE:), which has competing producing tasks in New England, was among the many huge spenders looking for to sink the undertaking.

Even so, native sentiment runs deep.

Joe Dionne, 71, labored in the native lumber business for 31 years and now works in actual property. He mentioned he opposed the undertaking as a result of he believed it might go away a everlasting scar in the panorama, harming his enterprise and discouraging wilderness tourism.

“They’re just going to flatten that land,” Dionne mentioned. “It doesn’t benefit us at all.”

Asked about whether such projects are needed to fight climate change, Dionne said: “Climate change is a load of B.S.”

The Beanes consider in local weather change, however nonetheless have causes to oppose the transmission undertaking.

Evelyn, a registered nurse, mentioned the area has been a peaceable retreat from her hectic youthful life in New York City. And for Bruce, 70, a retired development employee, the untouched panorama is a dwelling hyperlink to his ancestors who arrived right here earlier than the American Revolution.

“We know green is important. But this isn’t the way,” mentioned Evelyn.

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