October 17, 2018
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$950M power grid project could tunnel under Kennebec River Gorge

File | BDN
File | BDN
Ice creates a mosaic on the Kennebec River Gorge in this BDN file photo.

Massachusetts officials say they are ready to negotiate final terms for the construction of a $950 million transmission line to carry electricity from Canada’s Hydro-Quebec dam system through Maine down to the Bay State. Central Maine Power says it can complete the project by 2022, but it is facing some opposition.

The line would run 145 miles through western Maine, from Lewiston to the Canadian border at Beattie Township, including a jog through the Forks and across the scenic Kennebec River Gorge. Some environmentalists say they will watch closely to ensure minimal impact on scenic resources. But for now, the Natural Resources Council of Maine is opposed.

“We’re very troubled with the lack of any evidence from Hydro Quebec or Central Maine Power about where this power is going to come from and what the total impact on our climate is going to be,” says Dylan Voorhees, the energy programs director for the Natural Resources Council.

A Hydro-Quebec spokesperson insists the electricity will be supplied from previously untapped hydro resources. And CMP’s John Carroll adds that the company is willing to take action to mitigate effects on scenic resources and local communities. That could include digging a tunnel under the Kennebec River Gorge, if that’s what local stakeholders want, or CMP would invest in trails and other recreational resources.

“That’s in our budget, and the question the community up there is answering is, is it worth more to them to have long-term funding available or to have us spend the money to bore under the gorge,” says Carroll.

As it seeks state permits, CMP will also face opposition from some electricity generators. The Calpine Corporation and others say Hydro-Quebec receives government subsidies that will enable it to undercut electricity prices in the U.S. and unfairly undermine their viability in Maine. CMP says the competition will benefit New England ratepayers to the tune of billions of dollars over 20 years. It will be up to the utility regulators in Maine and Massachusetts to decide who is right.

This report appears as part of a media partnership with Maine Public.

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