Lewiston officials support CMP hydroelectric project, new converter station

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LEWISTON — A multimillion-dollar project that would bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts through Maine received an official nod of support from the City Council last week, as Lewiston is set to become a centerpiece of the proposal.

The Central Maine Power Co. project, known as New England Clean Energy Connect, received unanimous support from the council because of its potential tax impact on Lewiston.

The project would channel 1,200 megawatts of energy from Hydro-Quebec along a new 145-mile transmission line from the Canadian border to a new AC/DC converter station in Lewiston.

Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett estimates that the $250 million investment in Lewiston will result in between $5 million and $7 million annually in property taxes. If approved, the converter station would be in the area of Merrill Road, which runs between Main and College streets. Construction would take place between mid-2019 and mid-2022.

However, the project is still awaiting permits and approvals from federal agencies, and has seen pushback from some Maine communities with environmental concerns. Those include towns surrounding the Kennebec Gorge, where CMP would build power lines over the Kennebec River, and a proposed Appalachian Trail crossing.

Others have noted that Maine ratepayers would receive no immediate benefits.

The CMP project has had a complicated path, but has been ushered in by a 2016 law in Massachusetts that seeks long-term contracts for renewable energy sources, including hydroelectricity from Canada. CMP was awarded the contract on the project from Massachusetts earlier this year.

The new transmission line in Maine would be built on land already owned by CMP. In June, in response to some of the environmental concerns, CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, said it would invest $22 million to support conservation and new trails in the area.

Following the council’s vote to support the project last week, a Lewiston news release said the project “will substantially expand the city’s tax base and assist in mitigating the city’s property tax rate.”

In the release, Mayor Shane Bouchard said Lewiston is “pleased to unanimously reaffirm our support for this clean renewable power project. While all utility projects have impacts, this one has major positives for Lewiston, Maine, and the region, with few negatives. It will generate jobs, lower energy costs, and expand the tax base. The city has a long and positive working relationship with CMP, and we know they deliver on their promises.”

Avangrid-CMP has said the project construction will support an average of 1,700 jobs annually in Lewiston and Maine.

Thorn Dickinson, CMP’s vice president of business development, was in Lewiston for the meeting last week.

He told city officials that the state of Massachusetts is paying for the project to bring in energy from Quebec and that the converter station in Lewiston would be equivalent to a generator, “injecting megawatts into Lewiston.” He said the increased energy supply will result in $44 million in energy savings for the region.

Barrett said Lewiston will only “indirectly benefit due to the potential reduction in overall electric costs due to an increase in electricity supply in New England.”

According to the council’s resolve in support of the project, the availability of 9.5 terawatt hours of additional power in New England will help to offset expected retirements of power plants in New England.

CMP has estimated $3.8 billion in energy related savings over the first 20 years of project operation, and that it will lead to the reduction of 3 million metric tons of annual carbon emissions in New England, including 265,000 metric tons annually in Maine.

During the meeting, City Council President Kristen Cloutier told Dickinson that it is CMP’s job “to sell us on this,” but she was interested to hear what the company has received for pushback so far.

Dickinson recapped the public process playing out in northern Maine on the Kennebec.

He said other questions have been raised over whether hydroelectric power, and reservoir hydro power, should be considered good renewable energy. He said emissions are roughly the same as off-shore wind, and lower than solar.

As for criticism over why Maine should bear the burden when the energy is passing through to Massachusetts, he said, “the main deposit of energy is in Maine. It’s benefiting the whole region.”

CMP said the NECEC project has earned support from 95 percent of the project’s corridor so far.

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Lewiston is a centerpiece of the proposed Avangrid-Central Maine Power project, which would build a converter station in Lewiston for hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts. (Portland Press Herald graphic) 

Central Maine Power’s map shows its proposed New England Clean Energy Connect, a project for the state of Massachusetts that would deliver power from Hydro-Quebec through western Maine to a new $250 million converter station in Lewiston.

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