State moves to open I-95, I-295 corridors to energy development

Posted Oct. 09, 2012, at 5:15 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A state panel is ready to open up land along the state’s two major interstate highways, I-95 and I-295, to energy companies looking to build power lines, gas pipelines or other underground infrastructure to transmit electricity through the state.

The state panel, known as the Interagency Review Panel, is inviting letters of interest from businesses as the result of a 2010 law signed by former Gov. John Baldacci that designates three “energy infrastructure corridors” as energy transmission routes through key regions of the state that can be leased to companies for major transmission projects.

The law sets up a process for the state to lease land along those energy corridors for transmission projects. In exchange, the state would receive lease payments and use the bulk of the revenue for improvements to the state’s secondary roads.

The law requires that applicants demonstrate that their projects are “reasonably likely” to reduce electric rates in Maine and that their transmission projects won’t harm in-state energy production.

The law designated I-95, I-295 and the Searsport-Loring corridor stretching from Waldo County to Aroostook County as the state’s three “statutory corridors” for encouraging the development of energy transmission infrastructure.

The energy corridors have the capacity to transmit almost as much electricity as Maine consumers use, said Ken Fletcher, the director of Gov. Paul LePage’s energy office.

“It is not designed to supply Maine. It’s really designed to supply the rest of New England with either Maine-generated electricity or Canadian-generated electricity,” he said. “What we want to do is make sure we negotiate an agreement that brings back value to the state of Maine.”

The energy corridor law passed in 2010 as a way to secure benefits for the state by allowing the transmission of energy from Canada, through Maine, to southern New England without endangering the state’s fledgling green energy industry. The law also ended a moratorium on the development of energy corridors that was threatening the development of some energy projects in Down East Maine.

The law originally directed 80 percent of revenue from leasing the energy corridors to the Efficiency Maine Trust to fund energy efficiency projects. But a law signed by LePage in April changed that allocation, directing 90 percent of revenues to the state Department of Transportation for use on secondary roads and 10 percent to Efficiency Maine.

Fletcher said the Interagency Review Panel’s primary responsibility is to negotiate the benefits package for the state. In addition to lease revenues, he said, those benefits could include guarantees of lower electric rates for Maine consumers.

Companies proposing energy transmission projects would have to follow all Department of Transportation rules for construction along interstate highway corridors, which means the infrastructure for any transmission project would have to be installed underground.

More information is available on the website of the governor’s energy office at http://www.maine.gov/energy/initiatives/review-panel.shtml.

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