LEWISTON — Neighbors clapped and cheered Tuesday night as the Lewiston City Council agreed to use some of the new tax revenue expected from a massive power line upgrade to protect their homes.

Councilors agreed to return up to $3.5 million in new property tax revenues to Central Maine Power Co. over the next 20 years in exchange for moving the utility’s Power Reliability upgrade around some Lewiston homes.

The city’s effort to make CMP’s upgrade program more palatable to neighbors next goes to the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

“We know that the PUC is always looking over CMP’s shoulder, to make sure they’re not pushing costs along to ratepayers,” said Lincoln Jeffers, assistant to the city administrator.

Called the Maine Power Reliability Program, CMP’s proposal calls for
upgrading a swath of power lines, beginning in Eliot and passing
through central Maine to Orrington, where they connect to lines from
Canada. Along they way, they pass through Litchfield, Monmouth, Leeds,
Greene, Lewiston and a corner of Auburn at the Durham line.

In some places, lines would be rebuilt or replaced. In other places,
lines would be added, including 115-kilovolt and 345-kilovolt lines.
The 345-kilovolt poles, not common in Maine, are wider than traditional
power-line towers and, depending on location, are about 20 to 25 feet
taller than the lower-voltage poles.

The project would affect about 4,000 property abutters statewide. If
approved, it could take three to five years to complete. Opponents say
the 345-kilovolt lines buzz and emit electromagnetic fields they fear
could cause cancer. Abutters say the new lines would lower their
property values.

Lewiston residents began meeting in January, trying to get the
utility to change the path. They settled on a plan that adds $3.5 million to the utility’s costs but moves the new lines in key places, minimizing impacts on many homes and neighborhoods.

CMP is expecting to spend $108 million on the program in Lewiston alone; $71.3 million of that will be used to build a new substation on Larrabee Road.

The proposed agreement would cover that new substation. CMP would normally pay $1.2 million to Lewiston in new property taxes. Now, $358,723 would be returned to the utility each year to cover the costs of the changes, as well as interest.

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