Maine Rejects Big Gas’s Gamble – For Now

Emily Green | @EmilyG_Maine

Last week, the Maine Public Utilities Commission closed the latest chapter (for now) in the ongoing saga that is the demise of Spectra’s Access Northeast Project when it decided to indefinitely postpone its proceedings on the ill-conceived natural gas pipeline proposal.

Previously, the Commission decided to move forward with a contract for natural gas capacity on the pipeline, but on the condition that other New England states also contracted for capacity. The PUC had also given its blessing to Spectra’s controversial financing scheme for its pipeline, which would have forced electricity customers (you, me, and every other Maine family and business) to subsidize the unnecessary project.

The Writing on the Wall: Maine Follows Other New England States

Now, however, the Commission has rightly recognized that recent decisions throughout New England “cast doubt on a path forward for the region.” After both Massachusetts and New Hampshire decided that they don’t have legal authority to force electricity customers to pay for a new pipeline, Connecticut also cancelled its review of the project. It was only a matter of time before Maine saw the writing on the wall.

But let’s be clear – the Commission’s decision last week was only to indefinitely postpone its proceedings regarding the development of natural gas pipeline capacity, pending future developments in the region. Although the Commission’s decision falls short of an outright rejection, it’s still a big deal for a few reasons:

  • “[F]uture developments in other New England states” are highly unlikely in the current legal landscape, which means that Maine’s decision, practically speaking, is close to a rejection of the project;
  • Maine isn’t going to take the lead or strike out on its own, which is great news for Maine citizens and businesses, who, without other New Englanders to help offset the costs, might have footed a higher percentage of the bill for this increasingly risky (and unnecessary) investment;
  • With each state’s refusal to move forward, the Access Northeast pipeline becomes less and less viable;
  • Maine’s move will increase the pressure on Rhode Island, the last hold-out in the region, where CLF just renewed its request to the state’s Public Utilities Commission to reject taxing consumers to pay for natural gas pipeline expansions.

The Fight for Our Climate Isn’t Over Yet

Of course, what this really means for Maine isn’t quite clear given the Governor’s remarks last month. Ever the gas industry’s tireless advocate, LePage is dedicated to making sure that we’re hooked on fossil fuels for generations to come. He wants to increase demand for natural gas in the state, and then bring gas from Pennsylvania, through Canada, to Maine. It remains to be seen what will come of this idea – stay tuned.

So what does all this mean for CLF and our members?  We stay vigilant. We continue to resist Big Gas’s false narrative that we face a gas shortage in the region, and we work against the unnecessary expansion of climate-polluting natural gas pipelines and power plants. Meanwhile, we strive for and promote sustainable alternatives that ensure New England stays warm and powered throughout the winter and cool and dry throughout the summer – without reliance on fossil fuels.

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