FARMINGTON — The vote at a town meeting Monday night against a controversial power line project by Central Maine Power will be among the testimony and evidence collected in a report due out soon from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which is considering whether to support the proposal.

The future of the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect project, the 145-mile transmission line from Quebec through central and western Maine and on to Massachusetts, hinges ultimately on getting support from the state commission.

“For the corridor to go forward, we would need to approve it,” PUC spokesman Harry Lanphear said by phone Tuesday. “But we’re only one piece of it.”

The PUC will consider Monday’s vote in Farmington, in which residents overwhelmingly opposed the transmission line after a debate that included comments from Gov. Janet Mills, a Farmington native, on why she supports the project. Residents who attended the meeting at the Farmington Community Center opposed the project 262-102 in a secret-ballot vote.

Farmington’s vote comes amid growing opposition in the region to the project, which opponents say would harm the landscape and environment. Franklin County commissioners voted last week to oppose the project as well.

During about 45 minutes of debate Monday night, Mills said she supports the project because it will provide $346 million in electricity market benefits in Maine in the first 15 years and will reduce CO2 emissions by about 360 metric tons per year. She also cited the local benefits, including an estimated $436,000 in new annual tax revenue from the project in Farmington, $5 million from CMP to economic development in Franklin County and $5 million in scholarships for local students, part of a $258 million benefits package negotiated by her administration.

In Skowhegan, the board of Somerset County commissioners in December voted 3-2 against rescinding their earlier support for the proposed project.

On Tuesday, county Administrator Dawn DiBlasi said that vote remains on the table.

“The commissioners voted and did a resolution that they were taking no further action on the matter,” DiBlasi said by phone Tuesday. “They firmly felt that no matter which way they went, some of their constituents were not going to be happy and decided to take no further action. The original action they took supports the corridor.”

Lanphear said the next step for the PUC is for the commission to write what is called an examiners’ report, a comprehensive review of all of the proceedings that have taken place on the request for approval by CMP for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the 1,200-megawatt transmission line.

That report will be released Friday, including the testimony of witnesses, public comments and legal documents. That release will be followed by an “exceptions to the examiners’ report,” in which  all the parties in the case can file their own comments on the report.

“They might agree with the report,” Lanphear said of utilities commission members. “They might disagree. They might agree with parts and disagree with other parts.”

The exceptions to the examiners’ report are due April 8. The commission is expected to make a final decision on the corridor – yea, or nay – later in April.

Other entities, including the state Department of Environmental Protection, also are in the process of preparing decisions.

Barry Hobbins, Maine’s public advocate, was at the State House on Tuesday and not immediately available for comment on the Farmington vote and other votes from boards along the corridor.

On Monday night, Mills cited the support of groups such as the Acadia Foundation and Conservation Law Center, which have signed on to supporting the project.

“Are there trade-offs?” Mills asked. “Sure. There always are. But the fundamental question to me is, ‘Do we want to be pouring money down the drain, fattening the pockets of big oil and big gas companies the rest of our lives?’ The answer is no.”

Ultimately, she said, residents should make their own decisions on how they wanted to vote, but asked them to “consider certain irrefutable facts.”

She said hydropower is one of the cleanest forms of energy; that the power would be coming from Canada, a country that is still a part of the Paris Agreement on climate change and has an interest in reducing emissions; and that the hydropower line will help bring down electricity prices throughout the region, including in Farmington.

Mills also talked about what the line, which is proposed to run from northern Somerset County, through Franklin County and on to Lewiston, will look like.

“It’s not the New Jersey Turnpike now and it won’t be the New Jersey Turnpike,” Mills said. “Its widest parts, from what I’ve read in the record, (are) less than half the width of the New Jersey Turnpike.”

On Tuesday, through her spokesman, Scott Ogden, Mills said she did not go into the meeting expecting to win the issue. She said she believes she convinced some people to remain open-minded and to consider the real effects of climate change.

“I am glad we were able to have a vigorous and friendly discussion. That is what these meetings should be all about,” Mills said in a statement. “I have always enjoyed town meetings and, throughout my entire adult life, have tried not to miss them. Last night was no different. I believed it was important to stand up and explain my decision in front of friends and neighbors and address some of the misinformation I have heard through the anonymously funded TV and social media ads.”

However, Mills says she does wonder who is funding what she called a “media disinformation campaign.”

“Is it the gas companies? Is it the fossil fuel companies? I believe the people of Maine have a right to know who is paying for those ads and why.”

Before the governor spoke, some residents said they were against the line because of its effect on the environment in Franklin County.

“I have spent 30 years plus going to a log cabin between The Forks and Jackman, 9 miles in on dirt lumber roads,” resident Wendy Huish said. “You’re in the wilderness there. … Do you realize the corridor they are going to make is going to be as wide as the Jersey Turnpike? The towers are going to be huge.”

“I was born here and lived here all my life,” resident Jon Bubier said. “I know lots of people on both sides put thought into this, but I don’t think Farmington should be neutral. I think (we should oppose it). It not only strips us of who we are in western Maine; it puts us in a situation where it’s like a knife cutting through all of Franklin County.”

Resident Dennis O’Neil said he supports the CMP line because it’s a step toward less reliance on fossil fuels.

“It’s not a perfect solution, but I applaud the governor for her efforts,” O’Neil said.

The vote rescinds a letter the Board of Selectmen previously wrote in support of the project and authorizes them to submit to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, one of the permitting agencies for the project, a letter opposing it.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

 

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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