LEWISTON — Gov. Paul LePage seemed pleased Friday about what the $1.4 billion upgrade to Maine's electrical grid would mean to the local economy.
LePage was on hand as Central Maine Power and its parent company, Iberdrola USA, marked the halfway point in its Maine Power Reliability Program.
"What's important is that we've had a very overworked system," CMP President Sara Burns told the governor during a tour of the company's new Lewiston substation. "By investing in this, we now have a platform so that if someone wants to move into Lewiston and build a factory, we can support that."
"That's what I'm talking about," LePage said, hugging Burns. "Now we're talking."
The five-year, 452-mile upgrade is designed to modernize Maine's power grid and give the state more reliable electric service. It involves upgrading a swath of power lines through central Maine to connect to lines from Canada. The lines pass through Litchfield, Monmouth, Leeds, Greene, Lewiston and a corner of Auburn at the Durham line.
The new Lewiston substation on Larrabee Road is a big part of that work. It's designed to take 345,000-volt electricity, run it through a 750,000-pound autotransformer to reduce it to the 115,000-volt level suitable for delivery to the Central Maine region. The company officially turned on that substation in December.
Work in Lewiston should be finished this summer, as crews connect the 345,000-volt network to the 115,000-volt network.
"From the outset, we were committed to building a smarter, stronger grid — a grid equal to the most modern systems of any system in the world," Burns said. "We stand here today, two and a half years into the construction, and we can measure the impact of the project."
Friday's milestone celebration was a catered affair, with music and promotional videos playing on big screens under a white tent on the edge of the property. Iberdrola Chairman Ignacio Galan flew in from Spain for the gala.
For Burns, the entire project is cause for celebration. The work is a huge boost to Maine's future, giving the state an electricity infrastructure as good as any in the world.
"This is our backbone," Burns said. "It's our platform for the next 20, 30 or 40 years."
LePage agreed that it's important.
"Mainers right now suffer from high energy costs; we have for years," LePage said. "This is going to help develop the diversity in different fuels and energies so we can lower the overall cost of doing business."
LePage said he would push state agencies to lower the cost of energy for business.
"I'm not like a lot of people who say we should not use more energy," LePage said. "I think we need to use more. If we are using more, that means businesses are producing and if we are producing, people are making money. And I can go golfing."
Burns said the work itself has been a boon to Maine, providing economic investment and jobs when they were sorely needed.
"For the past 30 months, this project has employed 2,700 people at nearly 300 Maine businesses," she said. "We also know that it's added another 700 to 800 jobs throughout the economy. And by virtue of our spending, many of you can see the impact we've had. We've heard it from sandwich shops, from restaurants, from hotels, from mechanics and repair shops and even from farmers; we use a lot of hay."
The project is scheduled to be completed in 2015, with autotransformers installed in Windsor and Kennebunk.