BAR HARBOR, Maine — A parcel of land that has been cleared on Woodbury Road might not end up being the site of a new electrical power substation after all.
After residents in the neighborhood strongly objected to Emera Maine’s plans — and after a group of them submitted formal complaints about those plans to the state Public Utilities Commission — the company has indicated it will try to find an alternate site to build on.
The power company has been working for several years to increase the electricity supply to Bar Harbor and to reduce outages on Mount Desert Island, some of which have occurred during peak tourism season. The proposed substation on Woodbury Road, behind several houses that face Route 233 near Kebo Valley Golf Course, was part of those plans. As part of the substation project, Emera also had planned to run new power lines along Knox and Crooked roads.
Both of those projects are on hold indefinitely, according to Susan Falloon, spokeswoman for Emera Maine. Falloon said Monday that the company may still decide to build on Woodbury Road, but it wants to work with residents to find the best solution. She said it is likely that, if Emera does build on Woodbury Road, it will be at a smaller scale than the company had planned.
“We really welcome the feedback,” Falloon said Monday. “[Looking for a possible alternate site] is going to push back the project, of course, but we feel this is an important process.”
A recent meeting at the local municipal building about Emera’s plans drew more than 80 people, most of whom objected to having a 26,000 square-foot substation with equipment towers nearly 30 feet high built next to their homes. Emera Maine officials who attended that meeting indicated that new lines and a new substation will have to be built in the vicinity of downtown Bar Harbor in order to improve service.
Arthur Greif, a local resident heading up the complaint process with the PUC, has said that Emera should look at other sites away from homes and closer to Emera’s local commercial customers such as The Jackson Laboratory or some of the larger hotels that have sprung up downtown in recent years. The new lines that will supply power to the substation should be installed along Route 3, which is more densely developed, rather than along Knox and Crooked roads, he said.
Greif said Monday in an email that Emera could consider a different strategy altogether by installing solar cells, solar batteries and a small emergency generator and by implementing efficiency improvements and differential rates to discourage peak use. He indicated that he and his neighbors do not have any immediate plans to withdraw their PUC complaint.
“We will work with Emera to convince them to build elsewhere,” Greif said. “If we don’t dissuade them, we retain the option of litigation before the PUC.”
Greif said neighborhood residents also might decide to file a legal challenge to the town’s decision to issue a building permit for a “huge” substation in a quiet residential neighborhood.
“The PUC will likely encourage collaboration between the parties and, if that fails, [the commission] is mindful of its duty to decide the complaint within nine months,” Greif said.