In January commissioners supported the $1 billion, 145-mile CMP transmission line to carry hydropower from Canada to Massachusetts.
by Doug Harlow, Staff Writer
Central Maine newspapers news story
SKOWHEGAN — More than two dozen people packed the Somerset County Commissioners’ meeting Wednesday afternoon with one message to the board: Reconsider your support of Central Maine Power Co.’s plan to build a $1 billion, 145-mile transmission line through the Maine woods to deliver hydropower from Quebec to customers in Massachusetts.
One by one, residents, mostly from the most direct impact area of the proposed transmission line in northern Somerset County, stood to decry the plan and to cast a shadow on CMP as a foreign-owned company that locals can not trust with their pristine wilderness.
“CMP is pulling the wool over our eyes,” said Tonia Merette, a real estate broker living in Long Pond Township. “This is not about Maine. Eighty-six percent of CMP profits goes to Spain. CMP is owned by a Spanish company. This is definitely going to hurt our property values.”
Iberdrola USA and UIL Holdings Corp. closed on the Spanish firm’s $3 billion purchase of the Connecticut parent company of several energy firms, including Central Maine Power Co., in December 2015.
The combined company operates under the name AVANGRID Inc.
“I am thinking about my people, my environment and what’s important to us,” Sheryl Harth, of Jackman, told CMP’s John Carroll outside the assembly room after Carroll had delivered a project update to county commissioners. “We got our independence from Massachusetts in 1820 — we are not beholding to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I know that you are just doing your job, but so am I.”
Carroll told Harth that the real question facing Maine residents is about climate change and if something is not done to reduce the impact of fossil fuels, then the planet is in big trouble.
“This is something that we all face,” Carroll said in hushed tones in the county building corridor. “This is one step in addressing climate change.”
The massive power line proposal was hatched earlier this year after a similar plan in New Hampshire was abandoned because of regulatory problems.
The project, which CMP believes it can finish by the end of 2022, needs state-level approvals, along with federal government and Massachusetts regulatory approval for a 20-year deal to buy power from Quebec.
The corridor would be 150 feet wide in places along a 300-foot-wide swath of land, then expand to around 500 feet in width in places south of Wyman Dam, 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 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.
Sandi Howard, the administrator of the Facebook group “Say NO to 145-mile CMP transmission line through Maine,” said the group hopes to change the minds of the five-member county commission, which in January wrote a letter in support of the project.
In a 4-0 vote on Jan. 4, with District 1 Commissioner Robert Sezak, of Fairfield, abstaining, commissioners said the plan, if accepted as part of the New England Clean Energy Connect project, will be good for the tourism economy and local infrastructure, boost the region’s tax base and reduce energy prices.
Merette, along with John Willard, owner of The Birches Resort on Moosehead Lake; Pete Dostie, owner of Hawk’s Nest Lodge in West Forks; and Clifford Stevens, owner of Lake Moxie Camps and Moxie Outdoor Adventures, assembled outside the conference room before Carroll’s address to county commissioners to say the transmission line is going to cripple their businesses.
“I think we need to slow this down and stop it and look for alternative plans,” Stevens said. “I think it will have a big impact on Somerset County. This project will have a heavy impact. It’s visible from everywhere.”
“This is going to go right across Coburn Mountain. All these people that have these camps with views, that’s going to be destroyed,” Merrett added.
One problem opponents of the project cited Wednesday is the fact that Commissioner Lloyd Trafton of West Forks is a member of a Maine nonprofit called Western Mountains & Rivers Corp., which has reached a memorandum of understanding with CMP that calls for the company to invest $22 million for measures including economic development and tourism in the region to mitigate the downside of the project.
Trafton did not comment Wednesday and commission Chairman Newell Graf, of Skowhegan, said the full board will review letters and comments delivered to them and address them at a later date.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Appalachian Mountain Club have objected to the project because of potential impact on the landscape and exaggerated environmental benefits cited by CMP.
One key problem, opponents see, is CMP’s plan to erect power lines across the Kennebec River, a popular whitewater rafting site. Staff at the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission have “serious concerns” about the potential impact of an overhead river crossing, according to a letter to the company seeking more information in May.
“This section of river is widely recognized for its outstanding whitewater rafting and attracts thousands of visitors a year to the area, not only for the rafting experience, but also the natural beauty of the place,” regulators said.
The company is willing to tunnel underground if required, but it would cost an estimated $37 million to do so.