LEWISTON — Development of a $200 million station that will convert and transmit hydropower from Canada was unanimously approved by the Planning Board on Monday.

The station, considered a centerpiece of the controversial New England Clean Energy Connect project, was given conditional use approval by the board, and according to city staff, site work will begin soon.

City Planner Doug Greene said that with Monday’s approvals, subcontractors on the project will receive the go-ahead to begin building an access road and clear trees for the station, which will be located at 1651-1653 Main St. and 183 Merrill Road Rear.

The project is in close proximity to a Central Maine Power substation on Larrabee Road, which is also due to receive upgrades as part of the overall NECEC transmission line. According to a Planning Board memo, the access road for the new station will traverse an existing CMP line to a 54-acre parcel purchased for the NECEC project.

The station will convert direct current (DC) power to alternating current (AC) power on a 6.5-acre site with four buildings. The project yard will be secured with an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence with lighting around the perimeter.

Lauren Johnston, a representative from engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, said Monday that the Planning Board approval marked “the most important piece” of the project components in Lewiston. She said separate applications will be filed in the coming weeks for the physical transmission line and other components.

The project had to receive conditional approval due to its height and other factors, but Johnston said it will not be visible to the public — a buffer of trees will be preserved around the perimeter to provide screening.

According to the memo, preparing the site will require clearing 11.6 acres of trees, with “some blasting” anticipated due to ledge rock.

The meeting, conducted over Zoom, was attended by several project officials. No one from the public spoke.

The NECEC project, bringing hydropower from Quebec into the New England grid, has been controversial since its inception, mostly due to its perceived physical impacts on a swath of Western Maine and questions over its benefits to energy customers. A campaign to block the transmission line, including a state referendum on the project, have so far been unsuccessful.

Officials in Lewiston, which is slated to receive more than $6 million in taxes annually from the project, have been an outlier in their support for NECEC. When other municipalities began pulling support for the project, Lewiston remained all-in.

Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, said Monday that the city would likely see closer to $7 million in revenue once the entire project is completed. City staff included the $200 million project in its 2020 tally of new development value in Lewiston.

Several officials have called the revenue projections a “game-changer” for Lewiston.

Planning Board member Shanna Cox, who is president of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, recused herself from the votes.

Planning Board Chairwoman Pauline Gudas voiced her support Monday.

“We don’t get many projects like this that are this large, but also this thorough,” she said, regarding the application.

Johnston said NECEC has received multiple federal and state approvals, and that the last remaining hurdle, a “presidential permit” for crossing the U.S.-Canada border, is expected this month.

Member Linda Scott questioned whether local authorities would be trained or otherwise involved in crafting emergency response plans should an emergency related to the converter station occur. According to the memo, the station will contain four buildings: a service building, valve hall, spare parts building, and a “relay I/O building.”

Johnston said response plans have been formed in collaboration with emergency personnel for other substations, and that it “will be done in similar manner here.”

According to the memo, once the project is operational, the facility will “only have occasional staffing and not require parking.”

All three votes to approve the conditional use and development review application were unanimous, 7-0.

Following the vote, board member Lucy Bisson said, “Did you think it was going to be that easy guys?”

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