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A US court declares the referendum that blocked an Iberdrola project on renewable energy unconstitutional

The Maine Justice Court has declared unconstitutional the referendum that blocked the project New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a new power line between Quebec and Maine, led by the Spanish electricity company Iberdrola. This line will provide 1,200 megawatts (MW) of renewable hydroelectric power to the New England power grid in Lewiston, Maine, enough to satisfy the demand of 1.2 million households.

In January 2021, the Spanish company managed to gather all the permits to start construction works on the project, which began that same month with clearing activities, the installation of temporary access roads to prepare for the installation of the supports that will carry the transmission line. Between January and November 2021 Iberdrolathrough its subsidiary Avangrid, continued to advance in the construction of the line.

However, the opposition to the projectrun by NextEra and a coalition of fossil fuel companies, got the November 2, 2021 election to vote on referendum among Maineans support or rejection of the project.

The project was rejected

Although the bill was rejected by voters, Iberdrola argued before the courts that said referendum was unconstitutional for retroactively changing the regulations and violating acquired rights and the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution of Maine because it is intended to reverse the decisions of the executive powers through legislative action and for intending to cancel a leasing contract of 25 years between NECEC and the State of Maine in force, protected by law.

This Tuesday, in a resounding victory for Iberdrola, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that the law approved by voters to lock the project it is unconstitutional if the company manages to demonstrate that the works had already been advanced and, therefore, had established enough vested rights before the state referendum was held.

The NECEC project had passed more than three years of reviews and extremely rigorous and exhaustive approvals, in which the environmental, economic and social repercussions were examined. All regulatory reviews at the state and federal levels concluded that the Clean Energy Corridor is beneficial from an environmental and economic point of view and essential for the plans of decarbonization of Maine and New England.

Once this new transmission line is built, the NECEC will be the largest source of renewable energy in New England, saving customers $190 million a year. The New England states have legislative mandates to cut their greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030.

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