The economy is the top concern of Maine voters, according to the Spring 2022 Critical Insights on Maine poll. Most Mainers believe it is going to get worse before it gets better. That’s not a surprise. Maine ranks in the bottom half of all 50 states in terms of economic growth. While the pandemic-related employment crisis is correcting itself, the national inflation crisis has caused too many families to fall behind. The reasons to be optimistic seem to be slipping away.
Maine needs a plan; one that creates certainty in the job market, one that creates jobs here in Maine, one that gives working Mainers a chance to get ahead.
It is no secret that ABC Maine and many trade organizations – both union and non-union shop alike – support the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC). We all believe that the NECEC represents a solution for Maine and New England’s ever complicating energy problem. NECEC would have created 1,600 good-paying construction jobs here in Maine, for Mainers. Opponents of the project liked to say these were not “permanent” jobs, they were construction jobs that would “go away” when the project was complete. Ask anyone in the trades and they will tell you that’s true of all our projects. That’s the nature of the construction business. Once the house is built the job is done.
Our economy – and the trades that help form its backbone – need large scale, multi-year projects like NECEC. That’s why groups like the AFL-CIO and the IBEW Local 104, and trade organizations like ours and others endorsed the project. They know big projects mean Maine families are being fed and clothed.
Three hundred and sixty NECEC jobs had already been created in Somerset County last year. The typical Mainer working on this project was making $38 per hour plus benefits. Imagine if it had been allowed to flourish.
Instead, voters declined to approve the project last November. While I always respect the voters’ decisions, in this case I worry they were misled by vocal, well-funded opponents of the NECEC. Opponents who had a lot to lose out of their back pockets if the NECEC were to be built.
The project promised a few key investments for Maine: $200 million to upgrade Maine’s utility grid; $15 million for fiber optic and broadband expansion in Somerset and Franklin Counties; another $15 million to help Maine build out its electric vehicle infrastructure.
Each of these investments would have brought jobs. They would have put Mainers with families to work. Overall, the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research estimates NECEC would add over a half-billion dollars to Maine’s economy.
Rural Maine would have benefited especially from this project. Host communities would have received $18 million per year in new tax revenues. And over $10 million was to have been invested in economic development and regional tourism promotion in Western Maine.
Here are some difficult facts. Maine’s energy infrastructure is aging. And it’s happening at a time when we as a society have committed to transitioning away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources. NECEC offered us a ready-to-go energy supply of clean hydropower from a friendly neighbor to replace at least some of our energy derived from fossil fuels. It was fully funded – Mainers didn’t have to pay a cent. Projects of this size and scope, offering this many benefits to Maine, simply do not come around very often.
Maine’s general contractors are ready and able to start building our clean energy future. Sadly, we’re still waiting.
— Special to the Press Herald