Politics & Other Mistakes: The road to Niceville

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If you carefully examine Central Maine Power Co.’s plan to build a transmission line to deliver Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts, you’ll discover the company is promising that in return for being allowed to ravage the western part of this state, the project will turn everybody in the Bay State into a nicer person.

Think of it. No more Massholes cutting you off on the pike. No more rude Bostonians condescending to the local rubes. No more Harvard grads explaining how we’re doing everything wrong. Maybe we’d even see New England Patriots fans hugging New York Jets supporters.

I’ve got doubts about that last one.

CMP claims that the 145-mile corridor it wants to carve through the Maine woods will deliver clean electricity from Hydro Quebec to our energy-hungry neighbor to the south. The new juice will replace fossil fuel, thereby mitigating climate change. As anyone who listens to National Public Radio knows, people who reduce their carbon footprint are, by definition, nicer.

That’s scientific fact. Undeniable. How could we say no?

Easy. It’s entirely possible for the Commonwealth to get all the allegedly clean Canadian power it wants without messing up one square foot of Maine. Massachusetts’ population – naturally inclined to arrogance, privilege and homicidal road rage – would be able to upgrade its personality without inflicting any harm on us.

Of course, there’s a catch. To achieve this admirable goal, the Commonwealth would have to subject itself to exactly the same sort of forest devastation it’s trying to foist off on Maine.

Here’s how the deal would work. New York City is currently negotiating with Hydro Quebec to build something called the Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line, which would bring 1,000 megawatts of Canadian power to the Big Apple. This project would run right by Massachusetts’ western border. If the capacity of this line were increased – and there’s no reason it couldn’t be, since Hydro Quebec has plenty of surplus electricity – it could also handle the power needs of the Bay State. All that would be required are lots of additional towers and cables stretching from the Berkshires to Boston. And a few less trees and woodland creatures.

In other words, the unsightly environmental damage would be inflicted upon the folks who’d be benefiting from the supposedly green power. Unfortunately, this tradeoff might mitigate the uplifting effects of cleaner energy, meaning Massachusetts residents wouldn’t become nicer people, after all. It’s also possible they might become even more unpleasant, in much the way the population of western Maine has been enraged by the push to despoil their neighborhood to benefit somebody else.

Opponents of CMP’s plan have already gathered 30,000 signatures on petitions to force a referendum aimed at stopping the project. Chances are that by January, they’ll have something close to 80,000 names, far more than the 63,000 needed to put the issue on the ballot. That’s forced the power line’s most prominent supporter, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, into an uncomfortable position, one that bears an uncanny resemblance to a lame duck.

Mills knows the project is wildly unpopular, particularly on her home turf in Franklin and Somerset counties, where most of the corridor is supposed to run. It’s also opposed by many of the state’s most politically potent environmental groups. If she campaigned actively for the CMP plan, she’d be eroding her base of support to the point where she might become vulnerable in a 2022 Democratic primary.

So, according to a statement her office gave Maine Public last week, she’s planning to take the wimp’s way out by sitting on the sidelines of next year’s referendum battle, pretending she has nothing to do with any of this, while taking occasional shots at CMP on the unrelated issue of its sloppy billing practices.

Too bad. Mills could have endorsed the New York power corridor as a reasonable alternative for providing clean energy to Massachusetts without sacrificing any Maine acreage. That would have been bold.

And it might even have made her seem like a nicer person.

Drop me a (power) line by emailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.