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Canadian First Nations ask US agency to block New England power line project

A group of five First Nations from Canada has asked the U.S. Department of Energy to block construction of an electric transmission line linking Quebec with New England, citing historic grievances over ownership of the province's power resources.

The nations have joined with environmental and other groups in the U.S. in opposition to the New England Clean Energy Connect project. The groups want the DOE to block issuance of a Presidential Permit, a license necessary for all cross-border projects. The transmission network has been the subject of citizen challenges in Maine where its proponent, Avangrid Inc.-owned Central Maine Power Co., wants to build the line to carry hydroelectric power generated by Hydro-Québec into the New England market.

The nations — the Pessamit Innu, Wemotaci Atikamekw, Pikogan, Lac Simon and Kitcisakik Anishnabeg — claim that 36% of the Quebec government-owned utility's electricity comes from assets located on their unceded ancestral territories. The groups claim that they should be compensated for power sold through the export agreement.

"The leaders of our five communities stated that they want to seize this opportunity to force the settlement that has always been denied to us and to obtain justice for what is morally, legally and constitutionally indefensible," the nations said in an Oct. 7 press release. "In 2018, the Pessamit First Nation helped derail the Northern Pass transmission line project that would have cut through the state of New Hampshire from north to south to bring electricity to Massachusetts. Faced with the inaction of the Quebec and Canadian governments, and in the face of this new attempt by Hydro-Québec to send 9.45 TWh per year to the northeast of the United States, our leaders recall that history could be repeated."

Northern Pass, which was proposed by Eversource Energy, was shot down by New Hampshire's Site Evaluation Committee after a lengthy court and regulatory battle. Innu communities in Quebec have long attempted to reach agreements with both the government and Hydro-Québec seeking compensation for the province's vast array of hydro projects and reservoirs, most of which were built before Canada's constitution was signed in 1982, which recognized the right of First Nations to be consulted and compensated for development of their lands. Most of Hydro-Québec's development of vast remote stretches of rivers through the province and neighboring Labrador took place in the 1960s and 1970s.

Separately on Oct. 7, a group of Innu nations launched a C$4 billion suit relating to the Upper Churchill Falls power project in Labrador, which is jointly owned by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Hydro-Québec, Radio Canada International reported. The French-language arm of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported the suit seeks redress for the flooding of more than 5,000 square kilometers of land that included traditional Innu sites, and that the C$4 billion is their estimate of the portion of Hydro-Québec sales to which they would be entitled.

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