November 13, 2019
By Steve Mistler
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills says she does not plan to get involved in a potential ballot campaign that could determine whether Central Maine Power (CMP) can build a controversial transmission line through Western Maine, even though she supports the project.
Opponents of the transmission line are still gathering signatures for a referendum that would allow voters to decide its fate next November.
But CMP, through a political action committee called Clean Energy Matters, is not waiting to kick off its influence campaign. The group announced Tuesday that it has begun airing a television ad called "Good Questions," a spot acknowledging that the 145-mile project has sparked concerns in the minds of Maine citizens.
The ad was released alongside two endorsements from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and a union of electrical workers.
But Gov. Mills, who earlier this year announced support for the project, did not join the campaign rollout, and she isn't listed on the campaign website as a backer.
In a statement, Mills' office says that she supports the project, in part, because of its purported carbon reduction impacts and a benefits package that includes funding for broadband expansion, subsidies for heat pumps, and scholarships.
But the statement also says the governor doesn't see a role for herself in the campaign, and highlights her commitment to a separate matter — an investigation into CMP's customer billing issues.
"Governor Mills believes CMP owes Maine people complete and direct answers about their billing errors, why they happened, and how they are fixing them," the statement read. "The Governor’s Energy Office will be an active participant in this investigation to ensure that these issues are resolved and that CMP is held accountable."
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Chris Lisinski Nov 12, 2019
A CONTROVERSIAL NATURAL GAS PROJECT planned for a densely populated waterfront area cleared the final major permitting hurdle Tuesday, further riling opponents who had hoped state regulators would reverse course.
After delaying its review process for more than two years, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal and Zone Management announced Tuesday that the Weymouth compressor station and permits previously awarded by other state agencies for the project are “consistent with the policies of the Commonwealth’s federally approved coastal management program,” Energy and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Katie Gronendyke said in a statement.
The decision concludes the state’s environmental permitting process with all necessary approvals granted. Local groups have already filed legal appeals and will likely do so with the latest ruling as well.
Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican, told the News Service that CZM’s announcement is a “significant blow,” particularly in the wake of a WBUR report that utility companies Eversource and National Grid see the additional fuel capacity from the compressor — planned as part of the Atlantic Bridge pipeline stretching through New England into Canada — as unnecessary to meet customer demand.
“In most other businesses that are not the energy industry, I think that would be enough to say, ‘alright, well, if the two major suppliers of this project don’t need it, we probably shouldn’t waste our money or our infrastructure,'” O’Connor said. “This shines an even brighter light that this is not for consumption in Massachusetts.”
O’Connor said opponents, which include community groups, most of the Massachusetts Senate, and a portion of the congressional delegation, will appeal CZM’s decision, but have not yet determined whether the challenge goes to the Department of Commerce or directly to court.
Petitioners previously filed a lawsuit contesting the Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to uphold an air-quality permit after a rocky appeals process.
“While this appears to be a blow to all those opposing this project — including the Towns of Weymouth, Braintree, and Hingham and the City of Quincy — we will not allow this siting to go forward,” Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station Executive Director Alice Arena said in a statement. “We will continue to fight this ill-conceived scheme by all means available and necessary. That the contracts for this gas are falling by the wayside on a daily basis tells CZM, DEP, and Governor Baker that this compressor station will be nothing more than a stranded asset for which the ratepayers will be held responsible.”
O’Connor also said he believes those frustrated by the project need to “restrategize” and take the fight back to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which already approved the project plan.
“Generally speaking, there’s just so many question marks when it comes to this project in particular that we have to send this fight back to the federal government,” O’Connor said. “We need our allies in Congress to get out and at least get us in front of FERC to make our case.”
The project has been controversial since it was proposed. Environmental activists warn that its operations run counter to the state’s emissions reduction goals, and residents in the area — which has faced pollution from industrial sites for decades — have expressed fears about potential health impacts.
Energy giant Enbridge, which is seeking to build the facility, defended its plans, describing the station as an important piece of infrastructure to meet the region’s energy needs.
“The proposed Weymouth compressor station is required to help us serve the needs of the Atlantic Bridge project customers located generally north of Weymouth, including local gas utilities in Maine and Atlantic Canada,” Enbridge spokesperson Max Bergeron said in a Tuesday email. “In certain cases, greater access to natural gas helps replace more carbon-intensive and more expensive sources of energy, helping consumers realize environmental benefits and cost savings.”
Bergeron said the company was “pleased” with CZM’s decision.
Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund wrote to CZM last week asking for additional review based on the limited interest from utilities, which he said rendered the compressor unnecessary for about 60 percent of the pipeline capacity.
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