Those of us affected by CMP’s proposal think a smarter grid – not a stronger grid – is better.

In his State of the State address last month, Gov. John Baldacci laid out an appealing plan for Maine’s energy future, stressing renewables, reliable pricing and jobs.

One cannot disagree with this vision.

At its center is Central Maine Power’s “Maine Power Reliability Project,” a $1.5 billion enterprise designed to bring 345-kilovolt transmission lines from Orrington to Kittery, ostensibly to carry power from wind turbines in the northern part of the state to the south, but also to send it (or 92 percent of it) to the rest of New England.

Those lines march right through Lewiston.

Those of us who live close to power lines are concerned about the governor’s and CMP’s claims of the project’s cleanness, greenness, price reliability and general value for Maine.

We have met with the Lewiston City Council, our state legislators, attended hearings with the Maine Public Utilities Commission and tried to get CMP to listen to us.

We are worried about our own backyards, but we are not interested in having the project simply moved to other people’s neighborhoods. We want solutions that work toward ample clean, green energy with minimal human cost.

With respect to “cleanness,” high-tension power lines emit electromagnetic waves at extremely low frequencies, which may be unhealthy. The strongest evidence concerns an increased risk of leukemia in children living close to the power lines. Studies on this conflict with one another, but anything with the potential to cause such devastating illness can’t be considered clean. In addition, power lines carrying 345 kV of electricity do make noise, and ambient noise has demonstrable effects on health.

We are asking CMP to adopt the principle of “Prudent Avoidance” recommended by the World Health Organization; this could involve running the lines under or along the Maine Turnpike; putting the 345-kV lines between existing 115-kV lines, so that even the nearest houses are more than 100 feet from the lines; burying the lines when they are close to houses, or buying close abutters out at fair market prices.

The Legislature should also enact legislation, as have several other states, requiring a minimum distance between a dwelling or workplace and a power line. As it stands, some of our neighbors will be less than 20 feet away from the lines. This is unacceptable.

The Legislature should also enact legislation, as other states have, requiring a minimum distance between a dwelling or workplace and a power line. As it stands, some of our neighbors will be less than 20 feet away from the lines. That is unacceptable.

We also question the “green-ness” of this project. Expanding the usable portion of CMP’s current corridor from 200 feet to 400 feet wide would cut down thousands of acres of trees. Trees absorb greenhouse gases, so we question the point of cutting them down in order to bring “green” power from Northern Maine to Southern New England.

In addition, the plans involve cutting a corridor right through the Woodbury nature preserve in Litchfield, not only spoiling its natural look, but the ecosystem it was set up to protect. We are asking CMP to take these concerns seriously and look at a “distributed generation” system, where energy is made in smaller quantities locally and transmitted as needed along lower-voltage lines. The U.S. Department of Energy is forecasting that distributed generation will grow 15-fold by 2011. Surely, this is the time to join a smart, environmentally sensitive grid.

We are also concerned about the financial implications of this project. Transmission is lucrative. CMP can expect to make large profits on its investment. The abutters are concerned about their property values, but more significant, Maine’s electric ratepayers – essentially all of us – do not seem to benefit financially from this project.

In fact, we may have to pay noticeably more for electricity from a project that sends most of the power out of state, and that, according to expert testimony, has vastly overestimated the peak loads likely in the next decades.

A Portland company called GridSolar has proposed a radical alternative to MPRP, which involves local small fields of solar panels linked to the grid to deal with the (usually hot and sunny) days on which peak loads occur. As far as we can tell, it requires relatively minimal environmental disruption, it poses no health risks, and it promises the electricity at 3-cents a kilowatt-hour, which will reduce Maine’s electricity costs by $60 million per year.

This plan seems, to us, to have the right idea with respect to the human implications of our energy needs and would better fulfill Gov. Baldacci’s vision of the state’s energy future.

Mary Hunter lives in Lewiston. Her views are representative of a coalition of Lewiston residents whose properties are affected by CMP’s transmission grid project. E-mail [email protected]

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