SKOWHEGAN — Central Maine Power Co. rolled out the big guns Wednesday for Somerset County commissioners, who heard support for the company’s proposed 145-mile-long power line through Maine connecting hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.
From Peter Vigue, president of Cianbro Corp., to outdoor recreation business owners and a local selectman who read a letter from Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills, brother of Gov.-elect Janet Mills, more than a dozen people spoke of the benefits of the New England Clean Energy Connect.
It was all about clean air, jobs, property tax benefits and a stable, reliable supply of electrical power for Maine and New England without reliance on natural gas, oil or wind power.
“Those that know me know I am focused on the future of this state,” said Vigue, whose company employs 1,500 people, 277 of them from Somerset County. “Oil-fired and nuclear plants are going off line. We have to ask ourselves what’s next.”
Larry Carrier, a business owner in Jackman, and Russell Walters, president of Northern Outdoors in West Forks, said they support the project for the promise of permanent trails along the corridor for snowmobiling, biking and hiking.
CMP says the $1 billion project would reduce the prices that Maine ratepayers pay for electricity by $40 million a year for the next 20 years. They claim the project would bring cleaner air, with Maine’s carbon emissions reduced by nearly 265,000 metric tons of CO2 annually, the equivalent of removing 57,000 cars from Maine roads and highways.
The project would reduce air emissions in New England by 3 million metric tons annually, the company contends. CMP also claims that the project would bring 1,700 construction jobs to northern Maine for the next four years, with a peak of 3,500 jobs during construction.
The transmission line would provide 1,200 megawatts to power roughly 1 million homes in Massachusetts. While its $950 million budget would be funded by Massachusetts electricity customers, the 145-mile-long infrastructure — plus updates to an existing 50-mile line — would run through 38 communities in Somerset, Franklin and Androscoggin counties.
There also is a significant piece of the project that runs through Windsor, Whitefield, Alna, Woolwich and Wiscasset, needing a new 345kV transmission line that will follow an existing corridor.
Project opponents, a 4,000-member group called Say No to NECEC, describe the line “as wide as the New Jersey Turnpike,” crossing under or over the Kennebec River Gorge, across the Appalachian Trail, 263 wetlands, 115 streams, 12 inland waterfowl and wading bird habitat areas, as well as brook trout streams and deer wintering yards.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine has come out in opposition to the project, noting that the transmission line through Maine would not reduce carbon pollution and therefore would have no benefit for climate change. Instead, the line would redirect existing generation and enable Hydro-Québec to profit from “green-washing” dirty, fossil-fuel power.
Somerset County commissioners in September 2017 issued a resolution strongly opposing additional wind turbines in the county or the Moosehead Lake region, saying industrial wind turbines and transmission lines would spoil the “world class beauty” of the region forever. Last January, commissioners approved the NECEC project, a point opponents of the project say was contradictory to their previous vote.
Richard McDonald, of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, the group opposing industrial wind development in the greater Moosehead region, says the NECEC project increases the threat of additional industrial wind development. He said his group is working against the projects to protect the region’s fragile tourism economy and iconic landscapes.
But John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, told county commissioners Wednesday that wind is not on the table, which is why wind advocates oppose the NECEC. Lower energy prices as a result of the project will make wind less profitable and therefore less likely, he said.
Even Chris O’Neil, of Friends of Maine Mountains, a wind opposition group, said if the proposed corridor isn’t used for the CMP project, the wind companies probably will try to use it.
Bob Meyers, of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said his membership doesn’t care about transmission towers if the riding is good.
“And the riding is good,” he said of Somerset County trails.
Joe Christopher, owner of Three Rivers Whitewater in West Forks, said he is not opposed to the CMP project.
“I support the project wholeheartedly,” he told Somerset County commissioners.
Paul Frederic, a Starks selectman whose family has worked the land there since 1795, read a letter of support for the project from Peter Mills. Frederic said Somerset County is one of the poorest in Maine and towns along the corridor would benefit immensely from the added tax base provided by the infusion of cash for services and schools.
He said the broadband internet access that would come with the transmission lines also would be a boost to children who can not even do their homework now because of bad internet connections.
“We like Massachusetts money dollar by dollar,” he said, referring to the fact that Mainers will not pay a penny for the corridor. “But we really like it a billion dollars at a time.”
Newell Graf, of Skowhegan, the commission chairman, said the board already had heard from opponents of the project, so they were not invited to speak Wednesday during the regular session. Some opponents did speak at the end of the meeting, however.
Graf said the panel will make its decision on the project at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 19.
The project still needs several state and municipal permits as well as approval from the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Aviation Administration before construction can begin.
CMP has estimated the permitting process will be complete by 2019 and construction, if the project is approved, completed by 2022.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367