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October 19, 2018

CMP nixes overhead crossing of scenic Kennebec Gorge in bid to win over critics

Courtesy / CMP
Courtesy / CMP
Central Maine Power Co. President and CEO Doug Herling.announced Thursday that the company's$950 million New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line project.would avoid an aerial crossing, but instead go underneath the river.

About New England Clean Energy Connect

Central Maine Power's $950 million New England Clean Energy Connect project was selected in response to a Massachusetts initiative to increase the supply of clean energy as required under the Bay State's Global Warming Solutions Act. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities currently is reviewing 20-year contracts among the state's largest electric utilities, Central Maine Power and Hydro-Québec for the delivery of 9.45 terawatt hours of electricity annually from Canadian hydropower facilities.

In Maine, the project requires a transmission line from the state's border with the Province of Quebec, starting in western Somerset County and running 145 miles to a new AC/DC converter station in Lewiston. The new line, in combination with additional smaller improvements at various facilities in Maine, will have the capacity to deliver up to 1,200 megawatts of power from Hydro-Québec to Massachusetts consumers through the existing regional grid,

CMP has stated it will produce nearly $1 billion in economic benefits through construction employment, electricity cost savings, local property taxes, and enhanced economic growth between 2017 and 2027. The 20-year Massachusetts contracts will produce additional economic and environmental benefits in Maine through 2043, and separate agreements between CMP and Hydro-Québec could extend the delivery of clean energy benefits to Maine and the region to 2063 or beyond.

In a bid to address concerns of state environmental regulators, host communities and other stakeholders, Central Maine Power plans to avoid an aerial crossing over the scenic Kennebec Gorge as part of its $950 million New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line project.

The subsidiary of AVANGRID (NYSE: AGR) notified state regulators that it intends to amend is plans to address concerns that its proposed NECEC transmission line, if allowed to make an aerial crossing over the river, would harm the scenic and recreational value of the Kennebec Gorge.

Kennebec Gorge is 12-mile granite-walled section of the river just below the Harris Dam that has a sequence of Class 3 and Class 4 whitewater rapids that make it a popular attraction for whitewater rafting trips.

The company said Thursday it will submit a plan to cross under the river using "horizontal directional drilling technology" instead.

Its announcement comes a day after a public hearing hosted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission at which opponents outnumbered supporters — raising concerns that the 145-mile transmission will harm the natural beauty of western Maine and would primarily benefit Massachusett's electricity customers and CMP's parent company Avangrid. The PUC's regulatory review process now moves on to hearings limited to testimony by parties and individuals who've petitioned for formal intervenor status.

In a statement issued Thursday, CMP President and CEO Doug Herling openly acknowledged that the change in its NECEC plans was an effort to win approval from some of the critics that have voiced concerns about the transmission line's impact on Kennebec Gorge.

"Maine and the region will benefit immensely from the New England Clean Energy Connect, so we are changing our proposal to address a key concern of state environmental regulators," Herling said. "This has always been under consideration. We believe this change may also encourage stronger support from those who appreciate the project's benefits, but want to preserve the commercial and aesthetic value of the river as well."

NRCM calls change a 'desperate gambit'

CMP's pivot didn't placate one of its most vocal critics, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which had released a lengthy analysis by environmental and renewable energy organizations asserting that the NECEC project "would not reduce carbon pollution and therefore would have no benefit for climate change."

Dylan Voorhees, NRCM's clean energy director, issued this statement Thursday in response to CMP's change of plans about the transmission line's crossing at Kennebec Gorge: "In a desperate gambit to try to salvage its controversial power line proposal, Central Maine Power today acknowledged that its proposed 145-mile transmission line across Maine would cause significant harm to the Kennebec Gorge. But this small change in the project fails to address the project's many other flaws, including its failure to actually reduce climate-disrupting pollution, its harm to renewable energy development in Maine, the damage a new permanent transmission line would cause to fish and wildlife habitat across 53 miles of Maine's North Woods, and the lack of benefits to Maine people."

Voorhees said the project "is just as flawed today as it was yesterday," citing the PUC's public hearing at which he said "95% of those who spoke or submitted testimony voiced opposition to the proposal."

Citing the analysis prepared by Energyzt Advisors LLC, Voorhees asserted that "CMP's proposed transmission line would do nothing to reduce climate-disrupting pollution."

"Maine is simply a piece of real estate across which CMP wants to build an expensive extension cord so that both it and Hydro-Quebec can profit," he said.

Support from Maine businesses

A group calling itself "Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs," formed by business and labor leaders, came out Tuesday in support of CMP's NECEC project.

Bob Dudley, director of Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs, said the project would make Maine "a leader in the race against the catastrophic effects of climate change" by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 265,000 metric tons annually.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and other businesses cited the thousands of good-paying jobs that would result from the project.

Members of the pro-NECEC group include Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Associated General Contractors of Maine, The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 104, Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine, E.S. Boulos Co. and Cianbro.

Read more

PUC won't decide CMP's $950M transmission line project until March

PUC cancels next week's hearings over CMP's transmission project

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