The co-chairmen of two legislative committees say they don’t think the 145-mile transmission line proposed by CMP would benefit Maine.
By Ray Routhier, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
The bipartisan leaders of two legislative committees who disapprove of a proposed 145-mile power transmission line through western Maine sent a letter to regulators in Massachusetts on Friday expressing their objections.
The Democratic and Republican chairmen of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and the Environment and Natural Resources Committee oppose a $950 million Central Maine Power proposal to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to markets in Massachusetts, which is trying to use more renewable power sources. Supporters have hailed the new transmission line as a way to bring more renewable energy into the New England market.
Rep. Ralph Tucker: “We need to let them know there is significant and growing opposition.”
In their letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, the four lawmakers said they opposed the current plan because they don’t believe it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as supporters claim, that it may result in lost jobs and taxes in Maine if existing power plants are forced to close, and does not offer “meaningful benefits” to the people of Maine.
While the Legislature has no direct power over the project, the legislators who wrote the letter head the committees that oversee the confirmation of members of the Public Utilities Commission, one of the state agencies whose approval the project needs. Legislators may become involved at some point if there is evidence that the administration of Gov. Paul LePage has pressured the PUC and other state permitting agencies into approving the project, said Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, House chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
LePage’s energy director, Steve McGrath, has said that LePage would “push this right through” the permitting process in Maine.
Opponents file arguments with state to scuttle or reshape CMP plan for 145-mile power line
“The reason the letter was sent to Massachusetts is because the Mass authorities DO have some influence over the project,” Tucker wrote in an email to the Portland Press Herald on Friday. “We need to let them know there is significant and growing opposition.”
The three other letter writers were Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, Senate chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, who co-chair the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.
Rep. Seth Berry: “Does Massachusetts really expect Maine to be a cheap extension cord for their power?”
CMP was selected in late March to negotiate with three Massachusetts utilities on power purchase agreements, a necessary step before a contract can be awarded. CMP has begun applying for the needed permits to build a transmission line that would stretch from Beattie Township on the Canadian border to Lewiston, where electricity would then join the grid and help provide electricity to customers in Massachusetts. The electricity being brought from Canada would be purchased by customers in Massachusetts.
Berry said Friday he wants Maine to get a “better deal” from the project, including less of an impact on Maine’s western mountains and on tourism there. He also worries that bringing electricity to New England from a renewable energy source in Canada may create less demand for renewable energy projects in Maine, including solar and wind.
“Our question is: Does Massachusetts really expect Maine to be a cheap extension cord for their power?” said Berry.
But John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP parent company Avangrid, said Friday that as more states develop policies to seek and buy power from renewable sources, the market for all renewable energy will grow.
“By adding this (power from Canada) it’s adding incentive for other (companies) to develop renewables for the New England market,” said Carroll.
Carroll said his company disputes the legislators’ assertion that the project would have no benefit for Maine and its residents. He said construction of the line would create an average of 1,700 construction jobs at any one time – and as many as 3,500. He said the project would bring in $18 million a year in property taxes for 20 years, for a total of $360 million. CMP has also said the Hydro-Quebec line would lower electricity costs in New England, saving Maine customers an estimated $40 million a year for 20 years.
The Massachusetts DPU would have to approve the contracts between the Massachusetts utilities, CMP and Hydro-Quebec. In Maine, construction of the transmission line would need approvals from the PUC, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Land Use Planning Commission, as well as federal permits. Carroll said the state permitting process may be completed by the end of this year, and the federal permits will likely be obtained in 2019.
Berry said he and the other letter writers don’t necessarily want to stop the project completely. But they do want the current plan changed significantly if it is to go forward.
“We believe that Massachusetts and Maine can come up with alternatives to (the transmission line) that would result in greater economic benefits, fewer harmful impacts, and real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Such alternatives would benefit both Massachusetts and Maine,” the letter concludes.