CMP transmission line faces critical vote by state land-use panel

  • Sep 11, 2019
  • Portland Press Herald

Officials who oversee rural development in Maine are scheduled to decide whether Central Maine Power’s proposal to run a massive power line through the western part of the state is an acceptable land use.

Deliberations Wednesday by Maine’s Land Use Planning Commission are part of the environmental permitting process for the New England Clean Energy Connect project intended to transmit Quebec hydropower to Massachusetts along a 145-mile line through western Maine to a substation in Lewiston where it will connect to the existing grid. The commission is the regulatory and planning body that oversees parts of the state that don’t have local government, such as townships and plantations.

The transmission line is a permitted use in all the areas it crosses except for three where it needs an exemption from the Land Use Planning Commission: the Kennebec River, Beattie Pond and the Appalachian Trail. The 10-member commission has to decide if Central Maine Power has proved there are no feasible alternatives to building through those areas, and that it will provide appropriate buffers to other uses in the area.

Because the company has agreed to bury the transmission line to cross the scenic Kennebec River Gorge, the decision comes down to the remaining two locations, said Bill Hinkel, the commission’s regional compliance supervisor.

“The commission will meet to deliberate whether the evidence supports whether there is – or is not – an alternative location to the Beattie Pond and Appalachian Trail; that is one big decision that needs to be made,” Hinkel said.

Commission staff have presented commissioners with a variety of options to consider.

In both the Beattie Pond and Appalachian Trail areas, burying the line underground to avoid a visual impact would be more expensive and may create more disruption from construction, heavy machinery and permanent access roads compared to overhead lines, commission staff said.

Options proposed by commission staff to offset the development impact of the project include requiring CMP to use non-specular conductors, which have been treated to reflect less light, on the lines seen from Beattie Pond; prohibiting motorized access there from the transmission corridor; and planting shrubs along the Appalachian Trail so the lines can’t be seen.

“If they decide CMP has not met all the criteria, the commission could effectively say that site law certification for the use is not allowed or not buffered, and that is the end of it,” Hinkel said.

The commission may vote on the project Wednesday, but that is not guaranteed. Its decision on NECEC is part of the Department of Environmental Protection’s review of the project. The DEP has the authority to grant environmental approval of the project, and its staff expect a decision will be rendered in late October or early November.

Central Maine Power received a permit for the transmission line in April from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, but the project has met fierce opposition from people who believe it will destroy untouched Maine wilderness with negligible benefits for the state. Nearly two dozen communities the line would run through have symbolically voted against the proposal.

“We have put forth what we believe to be the best route for this project, with full considerations given to all environmental and community impacts,” Thorn Dickinson, vice president for business development at Iberdrola USA, the company that owns CMP’s corporate parent, Avangrid of Connecticut, said in a written statement responding to questions about whether the company believed it proved there was no other alternative to its proposed transmission line.

Opponents of the power line, some of whom are official intervenors in the case, will attend the commission meeting Wednesday in Brewer, said Sandra Howard, spokeswoman for Say No to NECEC.

“The CMP corridor is a bad deal for Maine. Over two-thirds of Mainers oppose this project because it would cause irreversible environmental destruction to the undeveloped region of western Maine where there is currently no permanent large-scale infrastructure,” Howard said in an email.

“NECEC would harm Maine’s wetlands, waterways, and wildlife habitat, including deer wintering yards and the last stronghold of native brook trout in the nation.”

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