FARMINGTON — About 100 people gathered at Mt. Blue High School on Monday night to ask questions of Central Maine Power Co. officials about a proposed Quebec-to-Massachusetts power line, many of them silently voicing opposition through signs and stickers that featured an “X” over the words “CMP’s Line.”
The public information meeting, organized by state Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and Wilton Town Manager Rhonda Irish, was called to answer residents’ questions about the New England Clean Energy Connect project, which would include about 33 miles of new transmission line through Franklin County.
According to CMP, the project would bring on average 1,700 jobs each year to Maine during construction and generate about $73 million annually in wages. The company has also estimated $18 million annually in new property tax revenue, including $1.5 million in Franklin County.
Yet some residents and local elected officials have expressed skepticism. Monday night they questioned CMP about its investment in communities impacted by the line, whether the company can help improve access to broadband internet and how many of the new jobs the company estimates will be filled by Mainers.
Selectmen Gary McGrane of Jay and Tiffany Estabrook of Chesterville asked why Maine is not seeing the same financial benefits with the project that were offered by companies who also bid on the project in Vermont and New Hampshire.
“Those projects weren’t selected,” CMP President and CEO Doug Herling said. “One of the reasons was price. I think what you have to weigh is where you site the line. What we feel is they didn’t site it in the most appropriate places, while we tried to avoid that. Instead of offering mitigation dollars we tried to site the line in a responsible place to avoid those impacts.”
Tiffany Maiuri, chairwoman of the Wilton Board of Selectman, also asked how many of the jobs CMP estimates creating will be filled by Maine residents.
Herling said he didn’t have a percentage but in the past CMP has tried to use contractors that hire Maine residents, though that would likely need to be supplemented with out-of-state hires.
When it comes to broadband internet, CMP officials also said nothing is definite yet, though they are open to conversations with Franklin County towns about how the new power line could also help bring broadband access.
“We’re very open to sitting down and talking about how we do this moving forward,” Herling said. “We’re not opposed to that but I’ll be right up front and honest when I say the details haven’t been worked out.”
The proposed New England Clean Energy Project, which CMP is planning after its bid was approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, would consist of 189 miles total of transmission line carrying hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.
Recently, the project has drawn scrutiny in Franklin County after Saviello encouraged communities to question whether they could be receiving more benefits from CMP, a subsidiary of Avangrid.
Asked Monday how much revenue the project will generate for CMP once it is constructed, Herling said the company is publicly traded and cannot yet legally disclose the estimated revenue, though “that will likely be made public soon.”
Both the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Renewable Energy Association are opposed to the project.
In a joint statement with the New England Power Generators Association Monday, the Maine association said electricity generators in Maine are concerned the line would not lower electricity rates in Maine and would undermine investments in Maine-generated renewable power.
“Since the early 2000s we have realized tremendous jobs and investment from Maine-made clean energy sources,” said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “If the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seeks to reduce its carbon footprint, there are many Maine-based generators who stand ready to provide that supply. And notably, that supply will directly benefit our local and state economies with clean, indigenous sources.”
Monday’s meeting was largely focused on answering the questions of Franklin County residents and officials, but it also attracted people from neighboring Somerset County, which will also be affected by the line.
Peter Dostie, who owns Hawk’s Nest Lodge in West Forks, said he is opposed to the project because of the scenic impacts it will have in Somerset County, particularly around the Kennebec Gorge.
A nonprofit group, Western Mountains & Rivers Corp., has negotiated a $22 million package for conservation projects and nature-based tourism as compensation for the negative impacts of the line crossing the gorge.
But Dostie said it is not enough and the project will “absolutely destroy the scenic byway and view shed.”
“I know of two people from the West Forks that want to see this project,” Dostie said. “Other than that, I don’t know of anyone that supports it.”
The project still needs several state and municipal permits as well as approval from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Aviation Administration before construction can begin.
CMP has estimated the permitting process will be complete by 2019 and construction complete by 2022.
Bob Schott, left, and John Lucas talk about the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line prior to an informational meeting Monday with Central Maine Power officials in Farmington. Both men said they oppose the line being built over the Kennebec River in the Forks area. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel)