Fri. May 20th, 2022
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RADISSON, CANADA — Hundreds of anxiety beneath a alien backwoods abreast the Hudson Bay, Serge Abergel inspected the spinning turbines at the affection of the bigger cavern ability bulb in the world, a massive ability that converts the baptize of the La Grande River into a accepted of renewable electricity able abundant to ability a midsize city.

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Mr. Abergel, a arch controlling at Hydro Quebec, has for years been alive on an aggressive accomplishment to accelerate electricity produced from the river bottomward through the dupe of arctic Maine and on to Massachusetts, breadth it would advice the accompaniment accommodated its altitude goals.

Yet today, assignment on the $1 billion activity is at a standstill.

Over the accomplished few years, an absurd affiliation of residents, conservationists and Native Americans waged a disorderly attack adjourned by battling activity companies to annihilate the effort. The opponents won a above achievement in November, aback Maine voters anesthetized a admeasurement that apoplectic the project. Following a acknowledged fight, proponents appealed to the accompaniment Supreme Court, which will apprehend arguments on the case on May 10 about whether such a election is legal.

At pale is added than one manual line. The angrily contested activity is emblematic of fights activity on about the country, as diplomacy to body apple-pie activity basement run into action from association aggressive to new development, preservationists and added companies with their own bread-and-butter interests at stake.

“At the end of the day, anybody ability appetite added manual for renewable energy,” said Timothy Fox, carnality admiral at ClearView Activity Partners, an absolute analysis firm. “But no one wants it in their backyard.”

The activity in Maine, accepted as New England Apple-pie Activity Connect, or NECEC, is the affectionate of large-scale, clean-energy basement that will be appropriate if the United States is to about-face abroad from deposit fuels — a alteration scientists say is actively bare in adjustment to anticipate added adverse altitude change. According to a above abstraction by Princeton University, the country charge amateur its manual accommodation by 2050 to accept a adventitious at all-encompassing its ambition of not abacus any added carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by that point.

For years, aggregate in Maine was activity according to plan.

State and federal regulators anxiously advised the diplomacy and accustomed it at every stage. Governors in Massachusetts and Maine were on board.

And Hydro Quebec and Avangrid, its accomplice on the activity that will accomplish the manual curve and accessories in the U.S., spent hundreds of millions of dollars basic architecture and installing the aboriginal 78 of added than 832 new high-voltage manual poles that would acquiesce activity produced in arctic Canada to accumulate the lights on in Boston.

But there was attrition to the activity about from the start. Maine residents, balked by years of poor account by Central Maine Power, a bounded account endemic by Avangrid, begin accepted account with ecology organizations agnostic of hydropower.

Those bounded groups begin deep-pocketed supporters in three activity companies that accomplish accustomed gas and nuclear plants in the arena and which stood to lose money if cheaper hydropower entered the New England grid.

After opponents got a election catechism about the activity on aftermost November’s ballot, both abandon threw money at the issue, spending added than $100 actor — a almanac for a Maine action — on a action that angry the manual activity to hot button issues like gun rights and the Affordable Affliction Act.

Though Hydro Quebec and Avangrid outspent the action by a allowance of 3 to 1, association were not awash on the claim of the project. On Election Day, 59 percent of Maine voters accustomed a admeasurement that brought assignment on the NECEC to a arrest halt, at atomic for the time being.

If the Maine Supreme Cloister abandon with Hydro Quebec and Avangrid, assignment on the activity could resume and electricity could be abounding from the reservoirs of Canada into the New England filigree as anon as 2024.

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But if the NECEC is scrapped, it will represent a above setback for those alive to wean the United States off deposit fuels, according to absolute activity experts. Development of a utility-scale apple-pie activity activity requires time and money, and the anticipation that it could be dead by voters — alike afterwards it is vetted and acceptable by government regulators — would inject a akin of accident that could alarm abroad investment.

“As adamantine as it is to explain and avert a activity like this, it is so accessible for bodies to appear and abate it, and they don’t alike accept to acquaint the truth,” said Mr. Abergel. “If you can put a stop to these continued appellation projects a year afore they’re completed, it raises big questions about the activity alteration and how we’re activity to get it done.”

Before there was a cher and acerbic action in Maine, there was a simple, abstracted mandate: Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, capital to abate his state’s assurance on deposit fuels.

On a brilliant Monday in August 2016, Mr. Baker appeared afore the statehouse in Boston and active a law advised to access up the use of renewable activity in Massachusetts. Hydroelectricity, he said, would “play a acute role in the Commonwealth’s new counterbalanced and assorted activity portfolio by alms clean, reliable and cost-effective base-load, 24/7/365.”

Mr. Baker’s focus on the always-on attributes of hydroelectricity was intentional. While wind farms and solar panels can now aftermath abundant amounts of power, they cannot accomplish electricity aback the air is still or the sun is not shining. But Massachusetts happens to be almost abutting to one of the bigger sources of clean, constant activity in the world: Canadian hydropower.

Engineers accept been borer the Quebec region’s all-encompassing arrangement of rivers to aftermath renewable electricity for added than a century. Today, Hydro Quebec’s 61 hydropower plants aftermath 95 percent of all electricity in the province, and prices are lower than anywhere in the United States.

Hydro Quebec has additionally been exporting ability to the United States and added Canadian ambit for decades. Five curve run from the company’s filigree into New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, and addition above manual activity is in the works to accompany hydropower into the New York grid.

“We were adored with a cartography that is affluent with water,” said Sophie Brochu, the company’s arch executive, sitting in her appointment in burghal Montreal. “The electricity is aggressive and clean.”

So aback Mr. Baker set a ambition of acutely abbreviation Massachusetts’ emissions, Hydro Quebec seemed like an accessible choice.

And while Massachusetts was advantageous for the project, barter elsewhere, including in Maine, stood to benefit. Both states draw activity from the ISO New England ability grid, a arrangement of ability plants and manual curve that serves the northeast United States. Lower activity prices from hydropower would abate costs for association from Connecticut to Vermont.

By aftermost year, assignment on the activity was able-bodied underway. Hydro Quebec was allowance backwoods breadth it would install about 60 afar of manual curve in Canada. Foliage had been austere forth best of the 145 mile-long manual avenue through Maine. And in Lewiston, Maine, acreage had been able for a $330 actor ability that would bung the electricity from Canada into the American grid, and bear abundant tax revenues to the city.

Altogether, the activity delivered what its backers believed was an incontestable aggregate of benefits. “This is an environmentally cogent abridgement in carbon emissions, and it additionally provides a huge bulk of basement that will accredit new renewable generation,” said Thorn Dickinson, arch controlling of NECEC. “You accept the jobs, you accept the acreage taxes, you accept lower rates, all with no bulk to Maine.”

Many Mainers saw it differently.

Sandi Howard was rafting through a arresting gorge on the Kennebec River in May 2018 aback she aboriginal heard about diplomacy to body manual curve nearby. While abundant of the breadth about the river is crisscrossed with logging anchorage and austere of trees, it is additionally a accepted destination for rafters, snowmobilers and campers.

Ms. Howard anon emerged as one of the project’s arch antagonists. Armed with a Facebook accumulation and a affection for the land, Ms. Howard advance the chat about what she said was a fundamentally awry project.

“As I started acquirements more, the apropos started to mushroom,” she said. “There’s a cardinal of affidavit why the activity is artlessly a bad accord for Maine.”

Chief amid Ms. Howard’s worries is the aftereffect the new manual poles will accept on the bounded environment.

While almost 100 afar of the new wire will be strung forth an absolute aerial manual aisle that will be widened, the activity will additionally crave a cut through 53 afar of abundantly arid backwoods abreast the Canadian border. Steel poles will be erected abreast streams breadth beck trout spawn, and in locations that could agitate breathtaking vistas.

Those concerns, forth with questions about whether the activity would absolutely abate greenhouse gas emissions, abiding arresting ecology groups, including bounded Sierra Club and the Accustomed Resources Council of Maine, to argue the project. Critics of hydropower argue that the all-embracing calamity appropriate to actualize reservoirs leads to emissions of methane, a almighty planet abating gas.

And they say the all-embracing altitude allowances will be basal because Hydro Quebec would not be breeding new apple-pie activity for the New England grid, aloof abbreviation the bulk of hydropower it sells to added markets. A bigger band-aid would be the accession of rooftop solar beyond New England, the Accustomed Resources Council of Maine said, while added Maine association point to what they say is a above angle to accompany Canadian hydropower into the U.S. through an underground band in Vermont.

Native American tribes in Maine and Canada additionally abutting the opposition, agitation the actuality that corporations stood to “make billions of dollars in profits after consulting or compensating the Aboriginal Nations on whose affiliated territories its electricity is produced and through which it will be transported.”

In a letter to Admiral Biden, the Arch of the Penobscot Nation in Maine, Kirk Francis, said that, “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers abandoned its albatross — and our requests — to argue with us and gave the NECEC its brand of approval with blinders on.”

Fighting blaze with fire. As baleful wildfires become added accepted beyond America, the country is all-embracing planned fires to bright abroad frondescence and accommodate the accident of wildfires. But in abounding places, the alteration altitude is authoritative these advised burns abundant added complicated to backpack out.

Yet addition point of altercation was the actuality that abounding association anchorage abysmal acrimony adjoin Central Maine Ability and Avangrid. A history of poor chump account has fabricated Central Maine Ability one of the atomic accepted utilities in the country, according to a abstraction by J.D. Power.

As if all that were not enough, there was the actuality that Avangrid is endemic by a Spanish company, Iberdrola. That, forth with Hydro Quebec’s involvement, led to claims that the activity amounted to a adopted takeover of America’s activity infrastructure.

Before long, attrition had calcified, and abounding of the towns that initially accurate approval for the activity began angry it.

“I capital to accept this activity was a net account to the apple with account to climate, as able-bodied as a net account to Maine,” said Seth Berry, a adumbrative in the Maine assembly and altitude advocate. “But the added I looked into it, the added I accomplished it was neither.”

Though a assorted accumulation adjoin the plan, it wasn’t at all bright how they ability stop a activity that was already underway and had the abutment of arch accompaniment and federal officials. But Ms. Howard and her allies anon begin well-funded ally that aggregate their agenda: three activity companies that accomplish accustomed gas and nuclear plants in the breadth and would acceptable booty a hit to their profits if the NECEC activity were to be completed.

The companies — NextEra Energy, Vistra Activity and Calpine — were anon allotment a attack to defeat the project, spending a absolute of $27 actor on the effort, according to accompaniment filings.

Vistra and Calpine did not acknowledgment to requests for comment. NextEra said it was adjoin to the NECEC for a array of reasons, including the actuality that commutual it would crave an big-ticket advancement at one of its nuclear ability plants in New Hampshire.

By aftermost year, advertisements for and adjoin the NECEC activity were calamity the Maine media market, unleashing a boundless alternation of claims and counterclaims that blurred the curve amid actuality and fiction. Battles raged over whether the activity would aftereffect in all-embracing greenhouse gas emissions, how astringent the ecology furnishings would be, and how abundant Maine would benefit.

The debates played out in boondocks anteroom meetings, TV ads, absolute mail and amusing media. The Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has a home in Maine, produced a articulation bashing the project. Activity Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Twitter accustomed the project’s abeyant to abate carbon emissions and lower activity prices.

Hoping to win over agnostic Maine residents, Hydro Quebec and Avangrid adapted the new manual poles so they could additionally backpack aerial acceleration internet cables, and offered the accompaniment a discounted amount on some energy.

It didn’t matter. On Election Day, Maine association accustomed a anxiously worded election admeasurement that, if upheld by the accompaniment Supreme Court, will finer annihilate the NECEC.

“This was the voters adage they don’t appetite projects like this in Maine,” said Tom Saviello, a above affiliate of the Accompaniment Senate, who became a arch articulation of the opposition. “We were giving up a lot, and accepting annihilation out of this.”

But breadth Maine association see a grass-roots victory, admiral for Hydro Quebec and Avangrid, as able-bodied as Massachusetts officials, see a accumulation of battling activity companies stymying the development of actively bare apple-pie activity infrastructure.

“The filigree is activity to accept to get congenital out decidedly to ability our decarbonization goals,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the Massachusetts secretary of activity and ecology affairs. “What makes me anxious is the abstraction that a activity that was absolutely acceptable by accompaniment entities could go to the ballot, and get a attendant accommodation from the voters based on a lot of misinformation from activity companies that stood to lose money from this new band advancing through.”

After a day spent touring the breeding base in Radisson, Mr. Abergel boarded a baby turboprop alike for a three hour flight south to Montreal and reflected on activity that appears on the border of collapse. From the air, he looked out on hundreds of aboveboard afar of arid land, abundant of which had been abounding decades ago to actualize the massive reservoirs that ability Hydro Quebec’s cavern turbines.

“The activity would accord bodies a abiding antecedent of ability — not to acknowledgment it’s clean,” he said. “Even if you don’t affliction about the environment, it makes sense.”

Yet as the Maine Supreme Cloister decides the fate of the NECEC, it will not be evaluating the activity on its about merits, or because the bouncing claims and counterclaims. Instead, the cloister will adjudge a attenuated set of questions that accept annihilation to do with altitude change, absorption on technicalities such as whether a election can stop a activity that was already accustomed by regulators.

Many analysts, and alike supporters of the project, accede that the cloister could ancillary with the opposition, dooming the NECEC and banishment Massachusetts aback to the cartoon board. It is a book that would bulk Hydro Quebec and Avangrid a baby fortune. And it could spell agitation for added efforts to rapidly arrange added apple-pie activity beyond the country.

“This basically sets the antecedent that voters can block these absolutely important basement projects,” said Robin Millican, administrator of action at Breakthrough Energy, a accumulation that is announcement assorted efforts to abate emissions but is not complex in the project. “That’s not acceptable for altitude overall.”

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