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Hydro-Quebec Vows to Build Line Despite Maine Referendum (1)

Nov. 3, 2021, 7:55 PM

Hydro-Quebec Chief Executive Officer Sophie Brochu isn’t giving up on a transmission line to send carbon-free electricity from Canada to the U.S. Northeast, despite voters in Maine backing a move to halt the project.

On Tuesday, 59% in a state referendum voted to ban construction of a Central Maine Power corridor, which opponents say would harm the environment by cutting through forests. In a statement, the Quebec government-owned power utility said it would “undertake all necessary actions to have its rights recognized.”

Brochu followed in a radio interview Wednesday morning, predicting a legal battle in comings weeks and months. She also compared the ballot initiative, which was supported by companies that operate natural gas plants in the region, to an attempt to play an additional period of hockey after everyone’s left the arena.

The project developer, utility Avangrid Inc., issued a statement Wednesday saying it had filed a lawsuit in Maine Superior Court challenging the referendum.

“This project will be built,” Brochu told Radio-Canada, saying Hydro-Quebec obtained all approvals and permits before starting construction. “It’s already being built, employees are here. All sorts of things can happen, it will be a question of time, and in the end it can be a question of money.”

A Hydro-Quebec generating station on the Saint Lawrence River in Beauharnois, Quebec. The government-owned utility has signed two U.S. export deals in recent years.
Photographer: Graham Hughes/Bloomberg

The 145-mile (233-kilometer), nearly $1 billion transmission line known as New England Clean Energy Connect is meant to mostly serve customers in Massachusetts.

If completed, it would be able to import 1.2 gigawatts of electricity, enough to reduce carbon emissions in the region by 3.6 million metric tons a year, according to Avangrid, or about 12% compared to 2019 levels.

In addition to environmental concerns, Avangrid and Hydro-Quebec faced opposition to the project from Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc. and two Texas firms, Calpine Corp. and Vistra Corp.

“While the outcome of this election is disappointing, it is not the end of the road and we will continue to advocate for this historic and important clean energy project,” Avangrid said in a statement Wednesday.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault weighed in on the result from Scotland, where he’s attending the COP26 climate summit. The supply contract to Massachusetts is one of two major export deals Hydro-Quebec has inked in recent years, with the other meant to send green power to New York City.

“We knew the referendum would be tight, we indeed have a plan B,” the premier said, according to Radio-Canada. The utility and the governments of Quebec and Massachusetts are looking into alternate ways to get electricity to the state, he said.

“I’m confident it will happen,” he said.

(Adds news of lawsuit in the fourth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Sandrine Rastello in Montreal at srastello@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Derek Decloet at ddecloet@bloomberg.net

Stephen Wicary

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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