Meeting on transmission line project draws a crowd

13 mins read
CMP President and CEO Doug Herling speaks at Monday’s meeting. At the table, left to right, is John Caroll, project communications; Thorn Dickinson, vice president of business development; and Gerry Mirabile, manager of environmental permitting.
This map shows the transmission line in blue moving through Farmington, Wilton, Chesterville and Jay. The project would add a Direct Current line alongside the existing Alternating Current line.

FARMINGTON – More than 100 people attended an informational hearing held Monday evening on the New England Clean Energy Connect, asking questions about the potential environmental, infrastructural and economic impacts and benefits of the proposed transmission line project.

The meeting was organized by state Sen. Tom Saviello and Wilton Town Manager Rhonda Irish to provide a forum for primarily Franklin County residents to have questions about NECEC answered by members of Central Maine Power associated with the project, including President Doug Herling. Selectpersons from towns the project passes through were in attendance, as were a number of members of the public with signs and stickers in opposition to the project.

The project was submitted by CMP, a subsidiary of AVANGRID, Inc., in response to a request for proposals made by Massachusetts to bring up to 9.45 terawatts of clean energy power into the state. NECEC was Massachusetts’ alternative if the Northern Pass Transmission project failed to acquire approval in New Hampshire by late March. That did occur, and CMP now has contracts with Massachusetts and Hydro-Québec to deliver the project by December 2022.

The $950 million project consists of 189 total miles of corridor, with 73 percent  of the project making use of existing lines. A total of 145 miles of the project would link a substation in Lewiston to the Canadian border through a Direct Current transmission line. Roughly three-quarters of that would follow preexisting transmission lines. The remaining 44 miles of line would impact AC infrastructure south of Lewiston and from Winslow down to Wiscasset, to accommodate the increased load. The project would be paid for by Massachusetts ratepayers and Hydro-Québec.

The line leaving Starks and going through Industry, New Sharon and Farmington.

The project would enter Franklin County in the north in Beattie Township, passing through Lowelltown and Skinner Township before entering Somerset County to the east. This section would be roughly 12 miles of new corridor, with that corridor maintained at 150 feet in width around the line after construction.

The NECEC reenters Franklin County in Industry at the Starks town line, traveling for 20.6 miles through six municipalities: Industry, New Sharon, Farmington, Wilton, Chesterville and Jay. An additional 75 feet would be cleared to make room for the DC transmission line, usually running parallel with the existing AC line. Steel monopoles averaging roughly 95 feet in height would support the 230 kilovolt DC line. In total, 176 poles are currently planned to be sited in Franklin County, including the northern section.

Benefits highlighted during a presentation by Herling and other CMP officials included an average of 1,700 jobs created each year of the five year project. Responding to questions from town officials, CMP said that it could not guarantee that Mainers would fill those positions. Herling did say that in the $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Project a few years ago, a number of contractors did hire Maine residents. While it was possible that the largest contractors would come from out of state, CMP officials added later in the meeting, subcontracted companies from Maine had been part of the MPRP.

The project would also provide $1.5 million in new property tax revenue in Franklin County, per CMP’s calculations. Specifically, utilizing 2016-17 mil rates and state valuation numbers, CMP projects an additional $467,000 in property taxes in Jay, an additional $463,000 in Farmington, an additional $141,000 in Industry, an additional $82,000 in New Sharon, an additional $52,000 in Wilton and an additional $37,000 in Chesterville. Another $300,000 would be generated in the Unorganized Territories.

Before the meeting began, CMP representatives and attendees in the Mt. Blue High School cafe.

CMP said that the project will also lower energy costs in Maine by $40 million to $45 million annually by injecting 1,200 megawatts into the regional grid.

Some town officials questioned if CMP would be willing to provide economic development support in Franklin County, and why Maine was not receiving benefit packages at the same level as projects in New Hampshire and Vermont, both of which included significant in-state expenditures. Herling said that CMP had designed the project’s path with the goal of minimizing the impact on the state, and therefore a substantial funding package had not been incorporated into the project. CMP officials said they were proud of the path they had chosen for the line, which represented five years of work.

“Every time we identified a resource based on field surveys, of which there were many, we’d work with the large landowners to avoid that,” Gerry Mirabile, CMP’s environmental permitting manager, said. CMP worked with four private landowners to acquire land for the new transmission corridor.

CMP has announced a memorandum of understanding with Western Mountains and Rivers Corporation, a nonprofit representing some interests in Somerset County. The MOU includes investments, including transferring land along the Dead River to the nonprofit, funding trail development and potentially a visitor center, in response to the company’s proposal to cross the Kennebec River. It isn’t yet clear if the line will cross over the river, the company’s preference due to the reduced cost, or under it, something that Mirabile said CMP isn’t certain is possible. A number of the signs in opposition to NECEC that were visible during the meeting referenced the Kennebec River Gorge, which is a whitewater rafting and tourist destination.

Sen. Tom Saviello.

Thorn Dickinson, the CMP vice president of business development, said that one discussion that had cropped up in Franklin County was possibly leveraging the NECEC to provide access to Broadband Internet. CMP intends to run high-capacity fiber optic cable in the static wire, a line that protects the transmission lines from lightning strikes. Dickinson that he had been discussing with Saviello and others how to utilize that broadband to the region’s benefit. Saviello has been in discussions with CMP about the project on behalf of the county, having previously voiced concerns about whether NECEC included sufficient benefit for residents of Franklin County.

Herling said, in response to a question, that CMP’s anticipated revenue relating to NECEC would be available soon, after contracts between CMP, Massachusetts and Hydro-Québec became public within the next week or so.

A number of questions focused on the environmental impact, including brook trout, deer wintering yards and wetlands. CMP has been communicating with state agencies on some of these issues, officials said, providing the example of the project improving brook connectivity for trout by installing culverts, for example. In Franklin County, a total of 21.4 acres of forested wetland would become scrub-shrub wetland, basically eliminating trees above ten feet in height. Roughly 600 square feet of wetlands would be filled for poles.

Some residents questioned if the project would offset greenhouse gases or if it would simply redirect preexisting hydro generation capability to a new market. Dickinson said that Hydro-Quebec had new capacity coming on line over the next several years. CMP officials say that in addition to stabilizing prices, introducing the hydro power will help displace natural gas and, on colder days, oil. CMP has said that NECEC will reduce carbon emissions by more than 3 million tons.

Steve Bien of Jay asks a question.

A number of residents questioned if the project would make it more difficult for companies operating in Franklin County to create solar or wind projects, due to either the impact of putting 1,200 megawatts of hydro power into the New England market or reductions in capacity. CMP officials said the question was a difficult one to answer and that a survey had to be conducted before any large scale project went online.

NECEC drew comment from representatives of the Maine Renewable Energy Association and the New England Power Generators Association in a joint statement released Monday evening. The organizations took issue with the project’s reliance on Canadian-based dams rather than local sources and the potential impact of transmission congestion on Maine suppliers.

“If the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seeks to reduce its carbon footprint, there are many Maine-based generators who stand ready to provide that supply,” Jeremy Payne, Executive Director of Maine Renewable Energy Association, said “And notably, that supply will directly benefit our local and state economies with clean, indigenous sources.”

“Companies that own power plants in Maine have a hard enough time getting their electricity to southern New England without additional congestion problems – a problem which this project will do nothing to alleviate,” Dan Dolan, President of the New England Power Generators Association, said as part of that same statement. “Instead of increasing competition, this proposal tries to smother competition.”

The project requires approval through the Maine Public Utilities Commission, as well as Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Land Use Planning Commission. A special Presidential Permit is also required, as the project will cross the country’s borders. Once overall state and federal permitting is complete, Dickinson said, CMP would approach towns for municipal permits as the construction schedule is set. Construction on the project would begin in the second half of 2019, with a project delivery date in 2022.

MDEP and LUPC both have webpages devoted to the NECEC project, located here for MDEP and here for LUPC. Saviello has offered to serve as a conduit for questions to CMP. He can be contacted here.

A truck with signs outside the meeting.
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  1. Jeremy Payne’s quote from the article, “”If the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seeks to reduce its carbon footprint, there are many Maine-based generators who stand ready to provide that supply…And notably, that supply will directly benefit our local and state economies with clean, indigenous sources,” clearly summarizes the crux of this issue. The “benefits” that project promoters are using to try and sell this are unsubstantial, while it appears there are a number of reasons – environmental and fiscal – to reject this project.

  2. Increased valuation (cmp property taxes) leads to an increased share of school budgets..has anyone done the numbers?

    Jo Josephson

  3. This was a high pressure snow job in July with industry in control of the floor while opposition was kept under strict control. Clearly the organizers of this meeting are in support of this project. Why didn’t they present this at a point in time in the process where input from citizens could have actually been taken into consideration. At this point, this thing is too far along. And, once again our state officials have failed the Maine people by passing up an opportunity to get some money (like the multimillion dollar benefit packages that were offered to NH and VT) for allowing this project to pass through pristine Maine. Did you really believe CMP’s explanation of why Maine wasn’t presented with a similar benefit package? I don’t think we should rule out that it may have been because leaders from those states insisted on compensation while Maine leaders who continuously favor big business, did not?

  4. I have to hand it to CMP – that was a very slick presentation. One an speculate just how much CMP will benefit when the CEO shows up to these meetings. The slide with all of the benefits to Mainers is dubious at best and the jobs are full-time with benefits? No, they are estimates and likely low-paying, intermittent jobs at best. While CMP showed us all the benefits to Maine the ‘costs’ were limited to Franklin county and did not address the overall costs to the State. What about the wildlife, the upkeep of the line with the access roads and other ‘maintenance’ and the overall environmental impact along with the aesthetics. To push + climate change impacts as a benefit is disingenuous and a reach. Talk about divide and conquer – well done CMP but I believe, as others, that this is a VERY bad idea.

  5. The issue of how it would benefit the typical Mainer was not clarified. During the latest heat wave the many towns in western Maine did not have enough power to feed the need for air conditioning etc. Tell me what CMP is doing about that issue. Seems to me that CMP should worry about Maine first. Again what financial gain does Western Mainers gain? certainly no mention of reduction in Electric bills, We pay more now than Massachusetts does. why would we want to continue to feed them when we need it here.

  6. In a state covered in trees, known for its picturesque terrain, and subject to the harsh realities of wind and ice, I’ve always thought overhead power lines are both a shortsighted and a quick & dirty approach. Last night, we learned that the proposed monopoles will be twice the height of existing towers. It’s not a matter of if, but rather just when we can expect another ice storm which would wreak havoc on such monopoles. When this proposed line and its equipment inevitably fail, we were told that CMP would absorb the costs and Maine customer would not pay a dime. In reality, once CMP plays its shell game of juggling costs they will be coming back to the Maine Public Utilities Commission for rate approvals for Maine customers. The did just that in June of 2016 when residential customers saw their rates rise by 7% (industrial customers saw rises from 19 to 38 %!). Shortly afterwards, CMP started buying up land in Maine for this project, undoubtedly with the newly found money from Maine customers.

    When asked about whether contracts for this project will require Mainer workers to be favored, the discombobulated answer ended with the punchline that “CMP bought a lot of local mulch hay from farmers for their last big project.” Wow! I’m sold.

    Unlike previous proposals through Vermont and New Hampshire, here in Maine CMP is NOT providing any incentive money towards economic development and NOT planning to run the line underground for any significant length. CMP can’t even provide any guarantee of local jobs for this project. Indeed, CMP is a for-profit company that sees Maine as the cheapest alternative where they can wrap themselves in a story about how this project is “green”. The technology exists to do this right in a very “green” way. Bury the line wherever possible. That will extend the life of the transmission line and leave Maine looking postcard perfect.

    Maine being a conduit for hydroelectric power from Quebec to the New England power grid is not inherently a bad thing, but we need to let our legislators know that CMP needs to provide quantifiable incentives for Maine and do this in the most effective manner for everyone involved.

  7. It’s clear Mainers do not want this project foisted on us- now what? is it too late?? we can’t let this state be ruined by Big Business that wants to basically pillage our beautiful state for to line their pockets…Both New Hampshire and Vermont said no way- let’s not be the suckers!! how can we stop it????

  8. As someone who has spent years educating myself on the CMP/Ibadrola/wind company scam, I find all this highly fascinating. Where were you all when this started going down 8 or 10 years ago? Did you see *Farmington* but not care when it was Carthage and Dixfied and Canton and Roxbury…?
    Jeremy Payne has been playing this game for years. Thanks for finally waking up.

  9. Having been through this with the acid ore mining issue…..you can be assured that the deck is stacked against citizen opposition. Consider, before CMP would go to all the trouble of putting a bid package together, they would want to get a nod from the State that the project would be a go. As was stated last night there are several approvals that still have to be granted by various state agencies, but the processes that have to be followed with those greatly limit citizen input and influence. That being the case, it is especially important that the towns hammer out exactly what they want from CMP in regards to regional development/broad band, etc. and then get those in writing as conditions of the approval granted by the State. It would seem that this should be acceptable even by the LePage appointed MPUC since these towns will be directly affected by this project. Towns should not hold back on what they ask for. At least that way locals are assured to get something out of this.

  10. Anyone notice that for once when he should open it LePage is keeping his piehole shut? He made it clear he was in bed with cmp with his veto pen. All of our politicians appear to be castrated on this one, with the exception of Tom.

  11. See the links listed in the article for some dry but troubling reading material. There will be some very severe and significant environmental impacts. Not to mention how ugly this will be. This is going to completely destroy a big check of the western Maine woods! Everyone looking at the subsidy that CMP is claiming will come, at what price? Stop and really think about if it’s worth it, apparently NH and Vermont didn’t think so and they were offered better deals! This will be a very regrettful decision for the residents of Maine!

  12. I find it very interesting that the dollar amount was given but no time given for the monies. It’s probably a one time amount. This is just another big business using Maine for their cooperate greed, just like Poland Spring water taking our resources and giving no tax money while draining our water systems and ruining our roads which we have to pay to fix. It would be nice if we had legislators in Augusta who would work for us instead of big business!

  13. I’m not even fully against this project, but just how vague CMP is in their answers, to even straightforward questions, is just so alarming.

  14. Did the same people that complain about this project and the damage to the environment and the county and towns not getting many $$$$ out of it…. complain about the blowing up and PERMANENT damage to the mountain tops in the State in order to put up those whirligigs? How many $$ are they getting from those ugly things?

  15. Glen,……wasn’t me who complained, I pay my taxes, and for a reason. But if we can’t get better representation than this by our elected officials…..who else feels that this almost sprang up out of nowhere, and that it is now too late? I know I do! I would consider a twelve mile swath of 150′ width, with 95′ poles pretty PERMANENT! But that’s just me I guess?

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