By Hannah LaClaire, Times Record Staff
Times Record news story
DURHAM — Proponents say a planned 145-mile powerline cutting across Western Maine, terminating in Lewiston, would be a boon for renewable energy.
The New England Clean Energy Connect would allow Central Maine Power to deliver hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts. For boosters of tourism and conservation, however, there are a lot of worries over the project’s immediate impacts and long-term effects.
“We’re being taken advantage of,” said Matt Wagner, a panelist at a discussion of the project Tuesday in Durham.
The project makes Maine “a cheap date for Massachusetts,” Wagner said, and that the “narrative” is that this project costs Maine nothing, but Maine needs “stop getting nothing,” too.
Elizabeth Caruso, a selectwoman in the western Maine town of Caratunk, said that the line will drastically impact the crucial tourism industry in her community.
The corridor will “rip a strip though where our tourists go to get away from civilization,” she said.
This visual impact would also be seen by people who are hiking the Appalachian Trail and on the Maine scenic byways, said Kaitlyn Bernard, Maine policy manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club. It would also fragment valuable forest area, she said.
Jeff Reardon, a representative from Trout Unlimited called the piece of Somerset County that would be affected a “forgotten jewel,” and argued that if this transmission line were being proposed through Baxter State Park or Sugarloaf, people would be going crazy. Instead, it was “designed to go through places not as many people care about.”
The $1 billion proposal, which CMP believes could be completed by the end of 2022, needs state-level approvals, along with federal government and Massachusetts regulatory approval for a 20-year deal to buy energy from Quebec.
According to CMP, the project would bring on average 1,700 jobs each year to Maine during construction and generate about $73 million annually in wages. The company has also estimated $18 million annually in new property tax revenue, including $1.5 million in Franklin County.
CMP representative John Carroll called the opposition “bizarre” and “shameful,” lamenting that instead of seeing Hydro-Quebec as a leader in the clean energy movement, “we are immediately suspicious.”
The project would be “a great battery for the Northeast,” he said, adding that this line would help prevent the continued mass spillover of energy that Hydro-Quebec is currently unable to sell.
The project is a simple step toward making the region and the nation less dependent on fossil fuels, Carroll argued.
However, members of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, including panelist Sue Ely, are concerned the proposed project will damage the environment and ultimately do little to cull greenhouse gas emissions.
CMP has touted the potential for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, Ely said, but since Hydro-Quebec buys power from other non-renewable entities, there is no evidence that supports claims it will reduce emissions overall. Additionally, with the reduction in utility prices, it will be harder for renewable energy suppliers in Maine to compete.
Most of the corridor would be 300 feet wide (roughly the width of the Maine Turnpike), but it would expand to around 500 feet wide in places south of Wyman Dam along Route 201 in Moscow, all with 95- to 100-foot transmission towers.
The line would run from the Canadian border near Route 27 then south of Jackman to Johnson Mountain Township, skirting West Forks to Moxie Gore Township and The Forks, where the new line would join the existing line from Harris Station at the head of the Kennebec River.
The line also would run near Caratunk and Moscow to the Wyman Lake hydroelectric station, crossing the Kennebec River south of Bingham into Concord Township. From there the line would run through Embden and Anson and into Starks, Industry and New Sharon to Farmington and on south to Lewiston.