A South Portland legislator wants state officials to consider a little-used South Portland-to-Montreal oil pipeline as an alternative route for a controversial electricity transmission line that is proposed through western Maine.

Chris Kessler, D-South Portland, presented a resolution Wednesday to fellow members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on behalf of Eben Rose, a former South Portland city councilor.

Central Maine Power Co. is seeking permission to build a $1 billion high-voltage transmission line from the Quebec border to Lewiston as part of a plan to provide renewable Canadian hydro-power to Massachusetts.

While supporters anticipate a variety of economic and environmental advantages, critics say the transmission line would leave a 145-mile-long scar across Maine, including pristine mountains and forests.

Kessler’s resolution suggests running the transmission line along an existing but equally controversial 236-mile underground pipeline that has carried foreign crude from harbor terminals in South Portland to refineries in Montreal since World War II. The oil pipeline has been largely dormant in recent years because Canadian refineries are flush with tar sands oil from Alberta and Manitoba.

The oil pipeline is owned by the Portland Pipe Line Corp., a Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil, Shell and Suncor Energy. In 2014, the South Portland City Council approved the so-called Clear Skies ordinance, which blocks the company from potentially reversing the pipeline’s flow to pump Canadian petroleum products to South Portland. The company is challenging the ban in federal court.

Kessler said Rose’s idea “could make everybody a winner” by giving the oil pipeline a new purpose. The pipeline runs northwest from South Portland through Raymond and Waterford, crossing into New Hampshire near Gilead and continuing through Vermont into Quebec.

Kessler declined to answer questions about the logistics, engineering or retrofitting that would be required to make Rose’s proposal a reality. He called it a “bold idea” that warrants serious consideration and further study by experts. Kessler also acknowledged that taking time to consider Rose’s idea might derail CMP’s proposal.

Rose said he views the emergency legislation as a catalyst to bring different agencies and companies together to consider an alternative to CMP’s current proposal. Four other people who oppose the CMP proposal spoke in favor of Kessler’s bill.

L.D. 1436 would direct various state agencies to pursue the oil pipeline as an alternative corridor for the transmission line and to negotiate with all parties involved. It would immediately stop the permitting process for CMP’s current proposal for at least six months.

The committee took no action Wednesday. The resolution will be discussed in a workshop to be scheduled in the next few weeks.

CMP is seeking authority to build the transmission line along a 150-foot-wide corridor stretching from the Maine-Quebec border just north of Coburn Gore to a power station in Lewiston. The line would run under the scenic Kennebec River Gorge and cut across the Appalachian Trail, as well as lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands all along the corridor.

Jim Mitchell, CMP’s chief lobbyist, told the committee that the so-called New England Clean Energy Connect project is a specific proposal selected by Massachusetts to address that state’s desire to fight climate change.

One route cannot be swapped for the other, Mitchell said, though CMP might be interested in accessing the oil pipeline for alternative energy uses in the future. Halting the review process now to consider an entirely different route and design an entirely different proposal would jeopardize the project, setting it back as much as two years, he said.

No representative of the Portland Pipe Line Corp. testified at Wednesday’s committee meeting.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted last week to grant a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” to the CMP project.  The decision was a major initial victory for CMP and its partner, Hydro-Quebec, endorsing a settlement agreement that would provide $258 million in financial incentives to the state, communities and electric ratepayers in Maine.

The three commissioners unanimously agreed with a PUC staff report that the proposal’s economic and grid reliability benefits outweigh harder-to-gauge impacts on scenery and outdoor recreation.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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