Maine has benefited handsomely over the past three years by a little known economic stimulus program that involves private rather than public money.
The $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Program is one of the largest construction projects in the state’s history, and it will continue boosting Maine’s economy through 2015.
A big part of that work has benefited Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, and has helped local companies, particularly in the hard-pressed construction industry.
It is the first significant upgrade of our state’s electrical backbone since 1971, and is having an impact in 13 of Maine’s 16 counties.
The Central Maine Power Company project has mainly generated news coverage for the hearings and court cases involving landowners upset by the project’s impact.
But the Central Maine Power project has also had a beneficial impact on the state’s entire economy.
A Sun Journal story Dec. 11 highlighted the most visible part of the project locally, construction of a new 16-acre substation on Larrabee Road in Lewiston.
Crews have removed 55,000 cubic yards of earth and replaced it with 95,000 cubic yards of compacted fill to support the weight of a massive transformer and substation.
The million-pound transformer will arrive in March aboard a 30-axle tractor-trailer. Work at the site is expected to continue for two more years.
The big project arrived at just the right time for the state of Maine. By almost every metric, our economy went into the dumper in late 2007 and it hasn’t fully recovered.
The downturn hit the construction industry particularly hard. New home construction has nearly ground to a halt while businesses have shelved expansion plans.
For some firms, the CMP work was desperately needed.
More than 20 companies in Androscoggin County worked on the project, ranging from Acadia Contractors in Turner to Williams Scotsman in Auburn, a supplier of modular work spaces. Gammon Landscape and Nursery, Maine OXY, Neokraft and even Rose’s Commercial Cleaning in Lewiston have benefited from the project.
Then there are an average of 2,100 direct and indirect jobs that have been sustained during the four-year project, jobs for everyone from laborers to engineers.
CMP estimates the project will pay $242 million in wages and salaries over the four years and will increase Maine’s gross domestic product by $289 million.
The company says about 1,380 of those jobs were created in Western Maine, and about $250 million will be spent on work in our region.
The peak of the construction occurred between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2011, and is now beginning to slow.
While the project does have an environmental impact, CMP has also given 4,765 acres of land to the state and set up a $1.5 million fund for use in conservation efforts.
There is a downside: Maine ratepayers will pick up a small portion of the cost for the project. The far larger part will be paid by the other states in ISO New England.
We will be left, however, with a more reliable transmission system that will serve the state’s needs far into the future.
The project is an investment in Maine’s future that came at just the right time.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.