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Maine PUC Staff Recommends Approval Of CMP’s Transmission Project

The peak of Coburn Mountain in western Maine overlooks woods through which CMP would construct its transmission line.
The peak of Coburn Mountain in western Maine overlooks woods through which CMP would construct its transmission line.

Staff at the Maine Public Utilities Commission is recommending approval of Central Maine Power’s proposed transmission line through western Maine. In a long-awaited “Examiner’s Report,” the Commission’s analysts said the controversial project “is in the public interest.”

The opinion does not mean, however, that the commission will authorize the “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” CMP is seeking: rather, it is a 162-page analysis of whether the project meets all the legal and technical standards set by law.

Supporters and opponents of the project will have 10 days to respond to the report, and after that the three commissioners — all appointed by former Gov. Paul LePage — will decide yes or no on the permit.

CMP first applied for the permit in Sept. 2017, when it was bidding for the 20-year contract to deliver electricity from Hydro-Québec to serve customers in Massachusetts. Since then, tens of thousands of pages of documents have been filed, dozens of witnesses for formal parties to the case have testified under oath and hundreds of people have turned out for public hearings to weigh in — most of them against the project.

The commission has received well more than 1,000 written comments in the case — most of those also in opposition, although a few opponents have made multiple comments.

The commission’s final decision may depend on its view of an agreement that would commit CMP to provide about a quarter-billion dollars of benefits to the state over 40 years. Those include $140 million to reduce electricity rates, $50 million in assistance for low-income ratepayers, millions for education and economic development and investments in next-generation energy technology, such as heat-pumps and electric vehicles.

Supporters include Gov. Janet Mills, large electricity users such as paper mills or chip-makers in the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, Public Advocate Barry Hobbins, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Snowmobile Association, the City of Lewiston and two environmental groups, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Acadia Center.

Other environmental interests are opposed, among them the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Appalachian Mountain Club and Trout Unlimited. The governments of a dozen towns — from Jackman to Caratunk, as well as Wiscasset — have voted to oppose the project or to withdraw previous support. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine withdrew its initial support.

Some electricity generators that rely on fossil-fuels or biomass are also against it, saying the big input of hydropower from Canada could undercut their profits. Those include the Calpine Corp., Nextera Energy, and ReEnergy Holdings.

Local citizen opposition group “Say No to the NECEC” has been an active opponent.

“We are disappointed by the recommendation by the PUC’s Hearing Examiners. There’s nothing in this report that changes the facts that this transmission corridor is a bad deal for Maine and it’s deeply unpopular,” group Director Sandra Howard said in a statement Friday night. “The people of Maine have told the PUC loud and clear that they don’t want the Corridor. In fact, of more than 1,300 comments from Mainers, only 28 support the project.

“We recognize that each of Maine’s approval agencies has unique criteria to evaluate the merits of the project and are focused to next week’s hearings as part of the DEP and LUPC processes to determine NECEC’s impacts to scenic character, existing uses, wildlife habitat, and fisheries. We are also encouraged by the bipartisan support growing in Augusta with four bill proposals associated to defeat the CMP Corridor project.”

Another group, “Say No to the Corridor,” which is secretive about its funding sources, has financed a slick TV and social media slamming Gov. Mills for her support.

The full commission could issue a final decision by May. Next week, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection begins its hearings on another certificate CMP needs for the project, called the Site Location of Development Permit.

Regulators in Massachusetts are also considering the project and the accompanying Hydro Quebec energy contract.

For an extensive analysis of the business and environmental considerations of CMP’s project, click here to read our series “Power Struggle In The Maine Woods.”

Updated 8:08 a.m. March 30, 2019

Copyright 2019 Maine Public