FARMINGTON – A transmission line project designed to connect Canadian hydro-power to the Massachusetts grid drew roughly 150 people to a Maine Public Utilities Commission hearing held on the University of Maine at Farmington campus Friday evening. A second, simultaneous hearing was held in The Forks.
Forty people provided the MPUC hearing officers with testimony regarding the $950 million project, which would consist of 189 total miles of corridor. Seventy-three percent of those miles would impact existing corridors, with a total of 145 miles of combined new and upgraded corridor linking a substation in Lewiston to the Canadian border through a Direct Current transmission line. The remaining 44 miles of line would impact AC infrastructure south of Lewiston and from Winslow down to Wiscasset, to accommodate the increased load.
In Franklin County, the project would create roughly 12 miles of new corridor in the Unorganized Territory in the northernmost portion of the county. It would also impact 20.6 miles of existing corridor running through six municipalities: Industry, New Sharon, Farmington, Wilton, Chesterville and Jay.
The majority of comments provided to the MPUC Friday evening, which will determine whether or not to grant CMP’s Petition for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, were in opposition to the project. Speakers addressed the potential environmental impact, the importance of environmental tourism to the region and what they saw as a lack of project benefits for Mainers. Several concluded that the project was not necessary for the state of Maine and that its petition should be denied.
Sen. Tom Saviello (R – Wilton) and Rep. Russell Black (R – Wilton) both spoke against the project. Saviello is part of a group consisting of selectmen from Farmington, Wilton, New Sharon and Chesterville, as well as the Greater Franklin Development Council and the county commissioners. That group had been meeting with project representatives for roughly two months in what Saviello said were “good faith negotiations” that culminated in the group presenting CMP with a draft Memorandum of Understanding that included $26 million in local benefits.
The proposed MOU included $16.55 million for the GFDC Broadband Initiative in waived fees, $2.3 million in operational support for GFDC, $4 million in town leveraging funds, $42,500 for low-income energy efficiency and food security programs, $1 million in academic scholarships and programming at RSU 9, RSU 73, SAD 58 and the Stratton School as well as $500,000 toward an internship program at the University of Maine at Farmington, $1 million toward tax relief, $1 million for redevelopment in the Rangeley area, $1 million in recreational support for Kingfield, Carrabassett Valley and the Stratton area. This includes events such as the Kingfield Pops and efforts such as eco-tourism and non-motorized trail systems. A limited liability corporation would be established to manage the funds, aside from those associated with GFDC and the UMF internship program, which would also be managed by GFDC.
The local group anticipated meeting with CMP officials regarding the proposed MOU but that meeting was cancelled. Saviello said that he had been asked by CMP to step away from the negotiations, a request he said could be linked to the recent issues between him and Governor Paul LePage. The governor called Saviello “repugnant” at a Government Oversight Committee meeting on Aug. 20; not the first time the two have been at odds. Saviello said earlier this week that he would step aside within the Franklin County negotiating committee.
CMP spokesman John Carroll said Thursday that CMP had no comment on the local group’s MOU, and that CMP was in discussions with a number of different groups.
On Friday, Saviello contrasted the NECEC with projects in New Hampshire and Vermont that included hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits for their respective states. Eversource’s Northern Pass proposal in New Hampshire, Saviello noted, involved a $200 million in funds earmarked for economic development, conservation and clean energy, among other benefits.
“I would ask [the PUC] to vote no when the time comes,” Saviello said. “We are no longer a colony of Massachusetts.”
Black said he was also opposed to the project as presented. He echoed Saviello’s position, saying that the project benefits were heavily weighed to Massachusetts and Quebec.
The project has support from a number of towns and cities in Maine, including five of the six towns in the southern part of the county. Selectmen boards in Farmington, Wilton, Industry, Chesterville and Jay have all previously issued letters of support, as did the county commissioners. Saviello said, however, that he believed those boards did not have full knowledge of the project’s impacts and benefits when those letters were issued.
According to Selectman Scott Landry, the Farmington Board of Selectmen has decided to file as an intervenor on behalf of the town.
“We’re not going in favor or against the project. We just want to have some issues addressed and remain at the table,” Landry said.
CMP has detailed three main benefits when describing the project: an average of 1,700 jobs created each year of the five year project, an estimated $1.5 million in new property tax revenue in Franklin County, per CMP’s calculations, and a reduction in greenhouse gases by introducing Canadian hydro-power to the New England grid.
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.
CMP has begun pushing back against claims by groups like the Natural Resources Council of Maine that question whether the project truly represents green energy, saying that those groups are allying themselves with the fossil fuel industry.
“NRCM and the Sierra Club wrongly claim that energy for the Massachusetts contract will be transferred from other electricity markets,” CMP and Hydro-Québec wrote in a joint statement that appeared in Commonwealth Magazine. “The reality is that Hydro-Québec has additional energy available … What’s lacking is enough transmission to bring that power to the New England market. The New England Clean Energy Connect unlocks Hydro- Québec hydropower potential by creating an additional transmission path from Québec to Maine.”
Speakers at Friday’s meeting that gave testimony in opposition to the project said that the impacts of NECEC would be greater than advertised and that the benefits did not go to Maine. Some speakers brought up issues going back to the creation of Flagstaff Lake.
Vaughan Woodruff, the founder of the solar firm INsource Renewables, questioned if CMP could be trusted with a project of NECEC’s magnitude.
“This project is running and chewing gum at the same time,” Woodruff said. “We should make sure that CMP can run first.”
Not everyone that spoke was opposed to the project. Selectman Paul Frederick of Starks said that the project would be impacting existing corridor lines in southern Franklin County. Just because NECEC was “controversial,” Frederick said, “doesn’t mean it’s bad.”
“I think this looks like a pretty good deal for people trying to pay their taxes,” Frederick said.
Another opportunity for public testimony will occur on Oct. 17, hearing officer Mitch Tannenbaum said, at the MPUC offices in Hallowell.