Panel debates energy corridors

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AUGUSTA — Lawmakers began working on a measure that would create state guidelines for evaluating new electricity corridors in the state during a meeting of the Utilities and Energy Committee on Tuesday. The guidelines attempt to protect Maine ratepayers and ensure public benefit from new energy projects.

Supporters of the proposal say it lays out a plan for Maine ratepayers to benefit from projects like allowing Hydro-Quebec to send electricity through Maine to southern New England. Some opponents say the legislation is not comprehensive enough, and others say clean energy projects in Maine will suffer if Canadian electricity is made widely available.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out a way that, if there is sort of a pass-through corridor from Canada to southern New England, how does it get routed and then what criteria do we approve it under, and how do we try to capture some benefit from Maine ratepayers, other than just having billions of dollars of electricity go by and we just wave at it,” said Rep. David Van Wie, D-New Gloucester, a member of the committee.

Van Wie said questions remain about who would ultimately oversee and approve new electricity corridors, but the committee is trying to streamline the bill.

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“(The proposal) came out with these ‘petition corridors’ and with the ‘statutory corridors’ and one of them had a requirement to go to the (Public Utilities Commission) for a certificate and the other one had a different certificate. I think we are gravitating toward going sort of the same route. I don’t know why there were different certificates,” he said.

Discussions on Tuesday focused on proposed amendments to the legislation brought forward by various stakeholders, such as Central Maine Power and the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Lobbyists for the MTA, an entity that would potentially be a landowner leasing space to an energy corridor, sought to secure 50 percent of all revenues collected by the state for the MTA.

State Sen. Peter Bowman, D-Kittery, called the figure “outrageous” and both he and Van Wie described the MTA proposal as “arrogant.”

“We have every intention of reaching a compromise,” said lobbyist Severin Beliveau, representing the MTA. “Fifty percent I don’t think is arrogant, it’s a beginning point. I think we have the ingredients here for a resolution; we want to cooperate.”

After the exchange, Van Wie said the initial proposal had treated the MTA like they were a state agency and they “very clearly” pointed out they are not the average state agency.

“The question then comes down to: … What’s fair and reasonable for them to request and that’s what we were debating in there,” he said.

The committee did not vote on the measure and will continue to work out details, such as whether or not to treat proposals for corridors on public land differently than those made on private land, an issue that came up during the public hearing.

“While the majority report before you has much to recommend, I feel it doesn’t go far enough in moving us toward the integrated energy policy we need for Maine,” said state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, in testimony given last week. “It doesn’t make sense to me to do an environmental and needs-based review of some major corridors, but not all major corridors. I am concerned that the criteria developed by the commission will apply only to projects on public lands and not on private lands, exempting the projects on private lands.”

The committee will schedule another work session in the coming days.

rmetzler@sunjournal.com

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