HOULTON, Maine — Officials with the Maine Power Connection wrapped up a weeklong tour of Aroostook County on Thursday morning, addressing business leaders, legislators and community members about a proposal to build a new $625 million transmission line from central Maine to connect northern Maine to the New England electric grid.
The project would bring wind turbine projects online and close a 25-mile gap between the Maine Public Service system lines in Houlton and the Maine Electric Power Co. transmission line to southern and central Maine that passes through Haynesville.
Officials with MPC predict the move will enhance competition, enable the development of renewable energy resources, and improve service and reliability.
The MPC consists of Central Maine Power Co. and Maine Public Service Co. The collaborative was created after The Maine Public Utilities Commission concluded in a report to the Maine Legislature that northern Maine electric power consumers could possibly benefit from a direct transmission connection of the MPS system to the New England electric grid. The project proposal came in response to this finding and to requests to connect more than 800 megawatts of proposed wind generation to serve Maine and New England consumers.
The MPC system studies are coordinated by CMP, MPS and ISO New England with participation by neighboring utilities in New England and eastern Canada, according to MPC’s Web site. CMP is a member of ISO-NE, which operates New England’s bulk electric power system and oversees the regional bulk power market. As part of the project, MPS has proposed joining ISO-NE.
Several economic studies have been done and the group has spoken about the proposed project this week in Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Houlton.
The MPC has proposed a plan to build a 200-mile transmission line for wind power that would consist of building new substations in Detroit, Houlton, TD R2 WELS near Bridgewater and Limestone. The estimated cost of the project is $625 million.
The MPC will require the acquisition of land for portions of the project. While some of the new 345 kV transmission line will be constructed over existing power line corridors (rights of way,) new corridors also will be created to accommodate the project. The two organizations —CMP and MPS — will negotiate with public and private landowners to obtain the necessary rights to build the project.
Supporters of the project said Thursday that its completion would help achieve the state’s wind power goals, lower energy supply costs, enable fuel diversity, promote green energy and help meet state mandated renewable portfolio standards. Brent Boyles, president of MPS, said that the project also would promote economic development by creating 930 jobs during the construction of the wind turbines and 95 permanent jobs for those who would maintain the turbines.
“This is a very promising opportunity for Aroostook County,” he said Thursday.
Boyles said that the $625 million for the project will be paid by “everyone but rate payers in northern Maine,” meaning investors and non-northern Maine rate payers.
“Northern Maine customers will be held harmless,” he stressed. “Northern Maine delivery rates can’t go up — that is our goal. If that doesn’t happen, this project is a no-go.”
He added that he was confident that those involved could make the project work and that northern Maine would see economic benefits.
John Clark, the general manager of Houlton Water Co, attended the meeting and said that the company was not against the project. He was skeptical about the impact on rate payers, however, saying he believed “northern Maine rate payers will pay.”
MPS transmits power to HWC, and HWC distributes that power to its customers.
“My responsibility is to the rate payers,” he said, adding that he felt that the real problem with the proposal was the plan to join ISO-NE, which he said would not benefit customers in the long run.
“Houlton Water Co. is not against this, but I’m concerned,” he said. “This shouldn’t be done on the backs of the rate payers … there is no guarantee a rate increase won’t happen.”
Boyles, however, expressed confidence that the proposal, which will continue to be studied and discussed, could succeed.
“I am confident we’re going to make this work and northern Maine rate payers won’t be harmed,” he said Thursday.
The proposal still faces several hurdles before it can move forward, including securing PUC approval and garnering state environmental permits.