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Plan For New England Powerline From Canada Drawing Criticism


While the Trump administration is working to prop up coal-fired power plants, many states are on the hunt for renewable energy. In New England though, a plan by Massachusetts to tap into Canada's vast low-polluting hydroelectric dam system is drawing fire. Maine Public Radio's Fred Bever reports.

FRED BEVER, BYLINE: It's the beginning of the rafting season in Maine's Kennebec River Gorge - a steep-walled verdant river canyon that's drawn white-water enthusiasts for decades.

KEVIN ROSS: All ahead, all ahead, all ahead.

BEVER: Passed the rapids, rafting company guide Kevin Ross points out that before the thrill-seeking tourists the river was prized and reshaped by earlier Maine residents.

ROSS: You can see some rocks coming out into the river. They were an old Native American fishing weir. Over the years, you know, people have changed this river and adapted to this river.

BEVER: But a giant extension cord between Canada and Massachusetts that would arc across the middle of an undeveloped gorge - that's a bridge too far, he says.

ROSS: It's hard to find places in this world that you don't see buildings. You don't see cellphone towers. You don't see transmission lines.


BEVER: From a bluff up above, local selectman Sandie Thompson cheers on another batch of rafters - some of the 15,000-plus visitors expected here this year. She reluctantly supports the project partly because developers Central Maine Power is offering locals a $22 million compensation package focused on outdoor recreation.

THOMPSON: If some of the monies can come back to the community and help, I'd rather see transmission lines than wind power. Those windmills are terrible.

BEVER: The incentives include land and trails for hiking and mountain biking, a visitor center, funds for nature-based economic developments and new broadband lines.

SUZANNE HOCKMEYER: I think people are more - they like amenities.

BEVER: Suzanne Hockmeyer co-founded the first ragtag rafting company here back in the 1970s. And she helped negotiate the compensation package. She says these days a lot of baby boomers have already crossed white-water daredeviltry off their bucket lists. And the area needs wider offerings to compete with other destinations in Maine.

HOCKMEYER: We knew that this area desperately needs some infrastructure and some money to get it - you know, be one of the players.

BEVER: But opposition is evident among residents who make their living on and near the river. Greg Caruso is a hunting, fishing and rafting guide. And in summer, he rounds things out, in his canoe, ferrying hikers on the Appalachian Trail across the river. The famed footpath would be partially rerouted to accommodate the power line. And he's not a fan of the deal that local interests cut.

GREG CARUSO: Is it blood money? It could be considered that, in my opinion. I also think that it's an easy sellout.

BEVER: Caruso questions whether the plan really would reduce the global production of greenhouse gas emissions, as energy supplier Hydro-Quebec has promised. He suspects the company will simply take power it's already sending to other customers and shift it to Massachusetts - enabling politicians there to say they are doing the green thing.

CARUSO: Why do I have to worry about power in Boston? Why do I have to have somebody detract from my wilderness experience - my living to benefit themselves?

BEVER: And while project supporters - among them, the governors of Massachusetts and Maine - have secured some local support, they still must negotiate many potential obstacles ahead, including permit hearings by state and federal regulators. For NPR News, I'm Fred Bever in Portland, Maine.

(SOUNDBITE OF OH NO'S "WELCOME TO LOS SANTOS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.