BOSTON — A plan to tap Canadian hydropower to make the Massachusetts power grid more green faces another challenge from a neighboring state.

The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project, which is overseen by Central Maine Power Company, seeks to import up to 1,200 megawatts of electricity generated by Hydro-Québec’s dams. The power would be delivered along a yet-to-be-built, 145-mile transmission line through western Maine.

A 2016 law requires Massachusetts utilities to buy clean power to address climate change and diversify the state's energy portfolio. Backers of the NECEC project say it will fill the state's green power needs and reduce regional carbon emissions that scientists say are contributing to a warming planet.

But opponents say the project is a bad deal for Maine, carving through swaths of untouched forest in the North Maine Woods, costing jobs and tourism dollars.

They had gathered enough signatures to put a question on the Nov. 3 ballot asking voters to block the project, but the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional. Now opponents are gearing up for another challenge, with an eye toward next year's ballot.

"This transmission line would cut through the heart of our state and forever change the culture and character of the northern Maine woods," said Sandi Howard, who heads the No CMP Corridor PAC, a coalition of environmental groups opposed to the project. "We're going to continue fighting it."

Howard said the new ballot initiative calls for banning large-scale utility transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region and requiring legislative approval of lines longer than 50 miles. That would effectively block the NECEC project and force other power line projects to seek approval by the state Legislature.

Volunteers have already gathered more than 23,000 signatures, roughly a third of the required number to qualify for the ballot, she said.

Backers of the transmission project say the new referendum could have "harmful consequences" for any renewable energy projects.

"We can’t afford to further politicize Maine’s energy needs every time we want to invest in a major renewable energy project," said Jon Breed, executive director of Clean Energy Matters, a political action committee supporting the project.

The NECEC project has cleared several state level regulatory hurdles but still needs to get a final permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Massachusetts' is scrambling to bring more hydropower into the state after its first choice for a project was ditched. A proposed 192-mile transmission line that would have run through New Hampshire was rejected by state regulators in 2018 amid concerns it would impact property values and hurt the tourism industry.

In Massachusetts, state leaders are under pressure to meet energy demand and ambitious benchmarks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

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