Opponents and supporters of the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect took turns Monday debating detailed legal ramifications at a hearing that will help determine whether a pending law approved by voters on Nov. 2 compels Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to suspend or revoke the project’s license.

Project opponents argued that the vote aimed at banning “high-impact” transmission lines in Maine’s upper Kennebec region and the pending law to put it into effect should be assumed to be constitutional unless a court says otherwise.

The project developer, however, noted that the law won’t take effect until Dec. 19. And because NECEC has temporarily stopped construction, there’s no reason for the DEP to take any action until a court rules on the company’s request for a preliminary injunction, a motion aimed at keeping the law from taking effect.

A virtual evening session for members of the public ran late into the night with opponents and supporters of the project logging in to testify. The department has not said when it will make a decision.

Monday’s daytime testimony provided new information on a few key issues.

During cross-examination, Thorn Dickinson, NECEC president and chief executive, said the company would hold off on any new construction until a ruling on its Superior Court appeal, which is now being handled by Maine’s Business and Consumer Court. A decision is expected before the end of the year.

Jamie Kilbreth, a lawyer representing a key opponent, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, asked what would happen if the injunction request is denied.

“That would be a decision we would need to consider at that time,” Dickinson responded.

Asked by DEP staff to provide a status update on the project on the ground, Dickinson said all work has stopped and contractors are focusing on making sure the corridor site is environmentally safe and sound for the duration.

Asked about the impact of a construction delay beyond December, Dickinson said it would add to costs and threaten the project’s ability to meet contract obligations in Massachusetts to be in service by August 2024. NECEC can extend that deadline one year by paying a $10 million penalty, Dickinson said. After that, he said, the contract agreement would expire.


The hearing is taking place amid confusing and rapidly changing circumstances. Most notably, NECEC agreed on Friday to temporarily halt construction on the $1 billion transmission corridor – but for reasons not specifically related to the DEP review.

The DEP has been under mounting pressure for months from project opponents to shut down construction while legal and regulatory challenges play out. That pressure intensified on Nov. 2, after roughly 60 percent of Maine voters approved a ballot question designed to block the corridor.........................

...........................It’s unknown exactly when that court action might come, but a hearing on the injunction request is set for Dec. 15. With the law scheduled to go into effect Dec. 19 – 30 days after Mills certified the election results – opponents expect the judge to decide quickly after the hearing, or at least by year’s end.............................................

The day after the election, Avangrid filed its lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Question 1. The company also vowed to keep building the power line.

In its complaint, Avangrid said almost $450 million already had been spent on the corridor, more than 80 percent of its right-of-way had been cleared and more than 120 structures had been erected...................

Read the full article here: https://www.pressherald.com/2021/11/22/state-environmental-regulato...