While voters in Maine said no to a multibillion-dollar power line project through the state that would see Quebec exporting electricity to Massachusetts for 20 years, Premier François Legault says he is “confident” the project will still come to fruition.
In a Tuesday referendum, the majority of Maine voted against the Hydro-Québec project. In total, just over a third of eligible voters cast a ballot.
“We knew that the referendum would be tight. We indeed have a plan B,” Legault said during a press briefing at the United Nations (UN) Conference on Climate Change in Edinburgh, Scotland. He noted that the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, is determined that the deal go through.
Hydro-Québec is now considering its legal options. The line is already being built and worth billions of dollars to the Quebec public utility and to its American partners.
In a short statement, Hydro-Québec said it will “take the necessary actions to have its rights recognized and ensure the continued construction of the project, which will make a significant contribution to the fight against climate change.”
In a separate interview with CBC News, Lynn St-Laurent, a spokesperson for the utility, called the referendum’s outcome “a disappointment.” But she says the Crown corporation will be considering a legal challenge.
Meanwhile, Legault says he is looking at different scenarios with Hydro-Québec and with Massachusetts.
“There are different paths we can take to get to Massachusetts and there are also different means,” he said, explaining that he could not provide more details.
“I am confident that it will be done.”
Known as the New England Clean Energy Corridor, the 233-kilometre project would cut a new path down through northern Maine and increase Hydro-Québec’s energy exports to the U.S. by roughly one-third by connecting to an existing line on its way to Massachusetts.
It is projected to generate $10 billion US for Hydro-Québec over 20 years.
Hydro-Québec and its American partner, Central Maine Power, have all of the necessary permits in place and construction started in January 2020, but citizens and non-government groups opposed to the project gathered the 60,000 signatures needed to force a referendum in Maine.
“These permits were duly obtained and construction therefore started,” said St-Laurent. “Therefore we stand today having that regulatory approval and standards met and having the support of folks who understand how important infrastructure like this is to the clean energy transition.”
WATCH | Drone footage of the Maine hydro project:
The Maine Public Utilities Commission had said this project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 3.6 million metric tons per year, but environmental groups weren’t convinced of the benefits.
Some people in Maine have protested against the fact that the project requires cutting down 1,000 trees, even though most of those trees have already been cleared. Others were opposed to a foreign company — Hydro-Québec — providing power to Americans.
This is the second time Hydro-Québec’s plans to export power to the U.S. have hit a roadblock. In 2019, Hydro-Québec abandoned a plan to export power through New Hampshire because of public opposition.