The Universal Notebook: Hydropower is only green for CMP

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Central Maine Power Co., its foreign parent company, and Hydro-Quebec are spending a small fortune to ram their so-called Clean Energy Connect corridor down the throats of Maine citizens.

It’s a bad deal for Maine not because it will destroy the natural environment, but because it encourages excess power use and will not improve air quality.

Despite all claims to the contrary, hydropower is not clean power. Just because it does not burn fossil fuels to produce electricity does not mean hydropower does not pollute. In fact, peer-reviewed studies have found that dams and reservoirs are major contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.

According to a study published in BioScience in 2016, dams and reservoirs emit more than a billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year and are a key source of methane, a greenhouse gas released when forest land is flooded.

So, ironically, while Maine has been busy dismantling hydropower dams, we are now being asked to embrace Canadian dams that have flooded thousands of acres of land, in the process releasing tons of sequestered greenhouse gases.

CMP has lined up a bunch of bureaucrats from the 1980s to endorse their bogus clean energy corridor. Most are Democrats friendly with CMP Chairman David Flanagan, old men pleased to have been asked to do anything and with long histories of compromise. I’m sure they believe hydropower is clean energy even though it’s not, but what upsets me more than so-called “conservationists” endorsing an industrial energy scheme is that Gov. Janet Mills vetoed an impact study of the New England Clean Energy Connect project that had been approved by the Maine Legislature.

If I don’t vote for Mills again, that will be the reason. 

On Nov. 2, however, we will be asked to vote on a referendum question that may decide the fate of the CMP project:

“Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land?”

You bet I do. But even if the referendum passes, I’m afraid the courts will not allow the will of the people to prevail. That’s why I also support the legislative effort to replace CMP and Versant with a public power authority in Maine.

Maine consumers are in the awkward position of complaining about the very power companies they depend on for electricity. LD 1708, “An Act to Create the Pine Tree Power Company,” would replace CMP and Versant with “a lower cost, more reliable and more responsive ratepayer-owned nonprofit utility company for Maine.” 

Of course, CMP is busy fighting the public power option at the same time it’s trying to build a transmission line to carry dirty Canadian power to Massachusetts. Corporate profit is CMP’s only definition of “green.” 

Opponents of LD 1708 argue that it will cost Maine close to $13 billion to seize CMP and Versant assets. But a study by Competitive Energy Services, on the other hand, projects that a consumer-owned utility would save $9 billion over 30 years.

My guess is that no one really knows how much money a public power authority might cost or save, but it would make power companies responsive to ratepayers in ways that CMP has never been. So it’s definitely worth a try. Can’t be worse than the status quo.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.