Politics & Other Mistakes: Welcome to the Maine house of ill repute

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We’re all prostitutes. The question is whether we’re expensive whores or cheap ones.

As evidence of our intentions to sell ourselves for the pleasure of others, consider the sex act known as NECEC (my editors would never allow me to use the actual terms those letters stand for, so I’ll pretend they’re short for “New England Clean Energy Connect”). Those of you horrified by graphic descriptions of bizarre erotic practices may want to skip the next paragraph.

NECEC involves inserting sizable metal structures in virgin portions of Maine’s anatomy, as well as penetrating our pristine nooks and crannies for the purpose of giving a cheap electrical charge not to ourselves, but to the citizens of Massachusetts. NECEC ranks right up there with tentacle porn (yes, it’s a real thing, look it up) as the least erotic experience available to those whose libidos overwhelm their intellects.

Even so, there’s a customer for it.

The john in this case is an entity I’ll call “Central Maine Power” to avoid embarrassing its family and friends (although, as far as I can tell, it has few of either). “CMP” is intent on committing NECAC with Maine, and it’s willing to spend over $1 billion to do so.

There’s nothing like a rich pervert. Although, this particular pervert may still be getting off cheap.

To set aside this tortured metaphor for a moment (I promise there’ll be more smutty stuff before I’m through), CMP wants to build a 145-mile high-voltage electrical transmission line from the Canadian border across western and central Maine to Lewiston, where it would connect to the grid. The power would then be shipped to Massachusetts.

This line would carry juice from Hydro-Quebec, a giant publicly owned utility with lots of dams, so the electricity in question would be “clean” in the sense that it wasn’t generated using fossil fuels or radioactive protuberances. Whether that last part is actually true is a debate that has nothing to do with sex, so we’ll skip it.

Of course, there’s plenty of hard-core opposition to this idea. Environmentalists are against the despoiling of mountains and gorges that attract whitewater rafters and other outdoor enthusiasts. These folks seem sincere in their concerns, but have somehow found themselves cuddled up with others whose motivations are less praiseworthy and whose commitments are more subject to alteration if the financial arrangements are sufficiently lucrative.

At the moment, they aren’t. While there’d be some construction jobs, and a few municipalities would receive extra property taxes (Lewiston might pick up $5 million to $7 million, Jay could reap $460,000), most of the state gets nothing except the chance to view some ugly towers. Meanwhile, the Bay State is being promised all sorts of rebates, and Hydro-Quebec expects to earn $200 million a year from the deal. The more venial opponents of NECEC are far less concerned with the environmental impact of the project than with grabbing a piece of that financial windfall.

State Public Advocate Barry Hobbins told Maine Public, “What I think that demonstrates is that this is a potential benefit that possibly the state of Maine should look at as part of a community benefit.”

Translation: Gimme and I’ll roll over.

Tony Buxton, the lawyer for the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, a consortium of paper mills and other big electricity users, is quoted by Maine Public as being equally easy: “To the extent (the Maine Public Utilities Commission) indicates an interest in the benefits that Hydro-Quebec receives, that greatly increases the probability that Maine will share in some of these benefits.”

Translation: If they pay enough, they can have whatever they want.

Even Gov.-elect Janet Mills isn’t shy about flirting with a pay-to-play scheme, telling the Boston Globe: “I would want to see substantial mitigation of this environmental impact, as well as concrete, long-term benefits to Maine ratepayers and energy consumers before putting the welcome mat out for this project.”

Translation: Insert cash before inserting anything else.

Stopping this project cold, without so much as a peck on the cheek, won’t be easy. The Public Utilities Commission, rather than voters or legislators, has the ultimate say. But as governor, Mills nominates the three PUC commissioners, all of whom are currently appointees of outgoing Gov. Paul LePage, a supporter of NECEC and other repugnant acts. One commissioner’s term is up in March, but the others don’t expire until 2021 and 2023.

By then, we could all be in bed with CMP getting NECECed. It’ll just be a question of how much we’re getting paid.

I’d be screwed if nobody emailed me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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