Regulators approve Maine power grid upgrade

Posted May 15, 2010, at 7:29 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Public Utilities Commission on Friday approved Central Maine Power’s proposed $1.4 billion power grid upgrade.

The state’s largest electric utility plans to build a new 345,000-volt transmission line from Orrington to Eliot, doubling the capacity of the grid’s backbone. CMP contends the improvements, the first major upgrade since 1971, are needed to keep the power grid stable beyond 2012.

“I am satisfied that the project will bring net economic benefit to Maine ratepayers and will allow Maine to meet its electric transmission needs for the next ten years,” said commission Chairwoman Sharon Reishus.

The utility hopes to get final permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and start construction in June, CMP spokesman John Carroll said Friday.

The plan the commission approved includes a pilot program for “smart grid” and non-transmission alternatives, $17 million for energy efficiency programs, the creation of an ombudsman to resolve landowner issues and additional money to support Maine’s participation in electricity transmission planning.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the state’s primary environmental regulatory agency, already has approved the project, as have more than half of the 81 cities and towns along the route, CMP said.

Maine ratepayers will pay 8 percent of the cost. Other users of the New England power grid will pay the rest, officials said.

CMP said the project will create about 2,100 new jobs and provide $61 million in wages for each year of construction, scheduled to end in 2015.