Commentary

Opinion: NECEC provides once-in-a-generation training opportunities for trades

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There are a lot of benefits to the New England Clean Energy Connect – benefits we’ve heard a great deal about. We know, for example, that it would provide $140 million in direct electric rate relief for Mainers. We also know it will generate an additional $350 million in indirect savings over the next decade-and-a-half. We know it will remove 3 million metric tons of carbon from the region every year, the equivalent of removing 700,000 cars from the road. 

These are important benefits, and I don’t want to discount them. Yet as one of the owners of a small business with locations all over Maine, I fear that some may overlook the training advantages conferred to Maine workers by such a large project.

The project involves laying 145 miles of new transmission lines, only one-third of it in Maine’s North Woods, covering just .05 percent of that great wilderness. The NECEC also includes upgrading 50 miles of current transmission lines, the construction of a new converter station, as well as substations and multiple upgrades of other systems.

This is a massive project that would spend about $200 million to upgrade Maine’s power grid. The bill for which would be footed by Hydro-Quebec and Massachusetts ratepayers.

Understandably, it would require a lot of people to undertake this project. The current estimate is about 1,600 jobs created for the construction phase of this project, with a built-in preference for hiring Mainers. And of course, hundreds of workers to keep the project running after it is built.

This would be a good thing for the construction industry in Maine not only because of the jobs, but also in terms of the massive skills upgrade it would leave in its wake. The NECEC would create work for electricians, engineers, and so many other workers. Its impact would likely be felt for years after construction has finished.

You see, projects the size of NECEC don’t come around very often. Managers in the building trades tend to love them, rightly, because employers are currently struggling to find the money and the time to train a large workforce of technical specialists, often starting from a very minimal skills-base.

Projects like the NECEC allow for a great deal of on-the-job training. Workers get to do things that they may have had the expertise on paper to do, but don’t really get to do in the field because smaller scale projects don’t require them. And workers who don’t have that expertise get to observe it firsthand.

So many trades would be able to use the NECEC to train their workers. Many think we’re only talking about engineers, electricians, and other intensive training jobs. But in reality there are many more. One example is heavy machinery operators. Machines used on the NECEC are providing new operators with hours of training on equipment that isn’t used all the time. When operators are trained and certified on these machines they are able to earn a significantly higher wage on the job.

Should the project go forward, even more Mainers will be poised to work on the NECEC and take in valuable lessons at a great point in their careers. For future employers in this state, that experience will help to buoy the skills of the building trades for the next generation. It would be a huge win for the trades. That may not be among the chief selling points of the project, but let’s not overlook this substantial benefit either.

About Debra Plowman

The Honorable Debra Plowman was the Assistant Majority Leader of the Maine Senate and served as the Director of Policy and Programs for the Maine Department of Education. She is a small business owner and lives with her family in Hampden.

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