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Governor’s Address: I want you to hear the truth about the NECEC project directly from me

Last night, thousands of Maine households turned up their thermostats to keep their families warm as cold weather engulfed us. At $2.90 a gallon, many households are spending their precious savings on heating oil.

The State of Maine sends five billion dollars out of state every year to pay for our use of nonrenewable fossil fuels. We’re the most dependent on heating oil of any state in the country, with nearly 70 percent of Maine homeowners relying on oil for heat.

Our high costs of energy and electricity are a barrier to our health and a deterrent to our economy. Our cars and trucks account for more than half of our carbon dioxide emissions.

I ran for Governor with a promise to reduce this dangerous reliance on fossil fuels, to address our carbon footprint, and to accept the challenge of preventing and mitigating climate change. We simply cannot afford to do nothing.

This week, I announced that Maine would become part of the bipartisan United States Climate Alliance, with the goal of reducing our state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 and achieving 100 percent renewable generation of electricity by that same year.

Consistent with these goals, I authorized the Governor’s Office of Energy to sign onto a stipulation before the Public Utilities Commission that includes a number of added provisions regarding the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission line proposal in Western Maine. These added provisions will help us wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

Many parties now agree that this project should go through. These parties include the Conservation Law Foundation, the Acadia Center, electrical union IBEW, the Maine Public Advocate, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the nonprofit Western Mountains & Rivers Corporation, the City of Lewiston, and the Industrial Energy Consumers Group.

I expect – and welcome – a robust and truthful discussion regarding the New England Clean Energy Connect project, a discussion that should be based on facts, not speculation and fear.

But you may have seen the campaign on Facebook and TV this week, funded by someone who refuses to be identified – maybe it’s one of those big oil or gas companies wanting to continue taking money out of your pocket. But here is what is clear: that ad misrepresents my position and the process that resulted in this stipulation.

I want you to hear the facts directly from me.

During my campaign for Governor, I said I had serious  concerns about the transmission line proposal. I questioned whether it offered concrete benefits to Maine people. I always said that I wanted to see substantial benefits for Maine people before I could support it.

Once I took office, I dug into the file and consulted with people I trust on all sides. I asked HydroQuebec to come to the table, and I insisted that the project, were it to go forward, should include electric vehicle charging stations, provisions to support solar and other renewables, broadband access, heat pumps and similar non- fossil fuel heating mechanisms, as well as cash relief for ratepayers – over and above the benefits to Maine electricity consumers of lower prices for all of New England.

I consulted with outside experts and I relied on the objective report of those experts hired by the staff of the PUC to analyze the price benefits of this project and its real impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, the stipulation I authorized the Governor’s Energy Office to sign onto last week is markedly different from where things had stood at the end of last year.

So, here is the truth. This project, if further permitted, will put our state and our region on the road to a zero-carbon economy by 2050. This isn’t CMP saying this; it’s the experts, and it’s me.

This stipulation will allow thousands of Maine’s low and middle-income families to shut off the furnace and heat their homes in the winter and cool them in the summer with modern heat pumps.

It will put our state in the lead nationally, per capita, in electric vehicle usage, creating a network of charging stations that will enable us to travel anywhere across the state.

By all objective analyses, it will suppress the price of electricity in Maine and across the region, saving Maine residents alone millions of dollars each year in electricity costs. In addition, there is that $50 million Low Income Customer Benefits Fund that will be administered by the Office of the Public Advocate and a $140 million fund to further reduce electricity rates for Maine consumers.

With an investment of more than $30 million in broadband, education and scholarships, and other community benefits, this project will boost, not diminish, the Maine economy. In the first ten years, the project will provide nearly $1 billion in economic benefits to the state, including several thousand jobs in Western Maine during the peak of construction – jobs sorely needed in rural areas of our state.

Finally, while enhancing the reliability of the New England grid to avoid blackouts and brownouts, the project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in New England by 3.6 million metric tons per year – the equivalent of removing 767,000 passenger vehicles from our roads.

Importantly, this stipulation creates a new special purpose entity – not Central Maine Power – to build and operate this transmission line.

And this project will cost Maine ratepayers nothing. Massachusetts will foot the bill.

Now, I recognize the concerns of those who oppose the project, many of whom are worried about the environmental impacts. Western Maine is where I live. It’s where I was born and grew up, and it will always be my home. No one loves Western Maine more than I do. No one cares about this state more than I do.

But I know that this project will now undergo a rigorous environmental review, with public input and comment, at the DEP, the Land Use Planning Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Presidential Permitting authorities.

And I know that the project has already changed a lot to accommodate specific environmental and sportsmen’s concerns. For instance, the path of the line has been changed to minimize environmental impact. The line will now run under the scenic Kennebec Gorge instead of over it. And there are proposals to preserve deer wintering areas, revegetate cut-over areas, and retain the canopy of tall trees wherever possible.

To put things in context, 411,000 acres of trees are cut in Maine every year. The number of acres that would be felled as a result of this project would be equal to two-tenths of a percent of what we already cut. And, while we also want to encourage solar and other renewables, creating a comparable amount of electricity with solar – even if we could make that into a consistent and reliable energy source – would require clearing about 34,000 areas, or fifty-five square miles, of land

As your Governor, it is my responsibility to study this proposal carefully, weighing the broad ramifications and judging whether it moves us forward. It’s so important to look at all sides of the matter.

Substantially enhanced by this stipulation, the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line project is now poised to benefit Maine people, inject millions into our economy, create jobs, fund electric vehicles, reduce electricity costs, expand broadband, and substantially reduce our carbon footprint. I believe that this is a project, on balance, that is worth pursuing.

Thank you.

Janet Mills


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