ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Maine Public Utilities Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a nearly $68 million Bangor Hydro-Electric project to construct and operate a 115,000-volt electric transmission line between Ellsworth and Harrington.
“We are all very pleased to have received permission from the Maine Public Utilities Commission today to develop this project, which represents a major infrastructure investment” for Down East Maine, Bangor Hydro spokeswoman Susan Faloon said in an e-mail. “This project will improve reliability of the electric system and strengthen the underlying electric system” in the Down East region.
The Downeast Reliability Project consists of construction of an approximately 42-mile-long transmission line beginning in Ellsworth and ending in Harrington.
According to Bangor Hydro project manager Lisa Martin, the new line will begin near an existing transmission line near Route 179 just east of the Union River and will connect to an existing line just east of the Harrington-Columbia line.
The project also includes a new substation on Tunk Lake Road near the intersection of the rail-trail and the Tunk Lake Road, and a switching station in Epping, a village in Columbia.
According to information on the Bangor Hydro Web site, the company is working with the Maine Transportation and Conservation departments to locate the new line along existing railroad lines and the new trail corridor.
The project will provide a second, redundant line that will reduce the risk of losing power to a large service area. It also is designed to enable economic growth within the region and allow connection to potential renewable sources of energy.
According to Faloon, the company will use Bangor Hydro crews to the extent possible. But it also anticipates using contractors, as it has done on other transmission line projects.
The project is expected to provide an economic boost to the area, according to Martin.
“Our experience is that these projects create an influx of economic activity associated with the development and construction,” Martin said in an e-mail. “The project has already generated a significant level of investment in the local economy through a variety of development activities.”
Construction is expected to begin early in 2011 and will take approximately 18 months to complete, Martin said.
The overall cost of the project is estimated to be $67.9 million. The project has been approved by ISO New England, an organization that supervises the bulk electric power system of the six New England states. That will enable pool funding by all New England electricity customers.
It is expected that $66.1 million will be funded regionally, recovered in New England-wide regional network service transmission rates, which leaves $1.8 million to be paid for by Maine ratepayers.
PUC Chairman Sharon Reishus said in a news release that the commission concluded after extensive review “that this project is needed and provides the best overall solution at the most reasonable cost.”
She commended the utility for its “successful efforts to address the concerns of affected landowners, including a state agency and several conservation groups. The company modified [its] preferred route for the transmission line to accommodate the needs of stakeholders without significantly affecting ratepayer costs for the project.”
Bangor Hydro filed its petition for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the new transmission line with the PUC in January. There were four intervenors in the case: the Office of Public Advocate, Central Maine Power Co., Northeast Energy Solutions, and a property owner whose property abuts the new transmission corridor where new line will be built.
The commission found that there is a need to enhance the electrical system Down East to ensure adequate reliability and capacity in the region, according to the release. The project was proposed after Bangor Hydro investigated a range of alternatives to address service needs in the eastern Hancock County and Washington County service region. Those alternatives included rebuilding or upgrading existing lines, adding generation, and relying on conservation measures.