Central Maine Power Co. officials are ramping up their efforts to begin a billion-dollar project that would upgrade 485 miles of transmission lines and substations stretching from Orrington, Maine, to Newington, N.H.
CMP Project Manager Mary Smith, one of three representatives from the company who met Foster’s Daily Democrat’s editorial board Tuesday, said the project would be the “single biggest infrastructure project Maine has ever seen.”
The utility company is pursuing the project following a year-and-a-half-long study that found Maine’s electrical transmission system could be in serious danger of failing by 2017.
The Maine Power Reliability Program was launched in part from a 2003 blackout that affected 50 million homes across the eastern half of the country and resulted in tightened utility regulations to prevent future episodes, Smith said.
To address what the study identified as five mains areas of weakness – including southern York County – CMP is hoping to begin construction on new 115 and 345 kilovolt transmission lines by late 2009. The lines would run along existing corridors and be placed anywhere from 20 to 100 feet next to existing poles, which Smith said will keep any residential property taking at a minimum and reduce the environmental impact. The lines form the “backbone” of the transmission system, carrying electricity up and down the state from generating plants.
The new lines are necessary to “keep the lights on in Maine,” Smith said, due to the fact that the system had its last major upgrade in 1971, when 345 kilovolt lines were added. Since then, electrical use has doubled while the population increased 32 percent, the study found.
“It’s done well, (but) quite frankly, it’s aging,” Smith said of the transmission system. “Something needs to be done.”
Before construction can begin, CMP must submit a project proposal to the state’s Public Utilities Commission by July 1. Pending the commission’s approval, the company will then need to obtain permits from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the 80 cities and towns the transmission lines would run through. The project could be completed sometime by 2012, Smith estimated.
Getting approval from municipalities may prove difficult, especially in regard to the Seacoast area. In December, a group of 10 local citizens filed a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission over CMP’s proposed reconstruction to the 115 kilovolt line that runs through the Berwicks and Eliot. CMP wants to replace that line with a 345 kilovolt line, meaning larger steel poles would need to be added alongside the current wooden poles in some areas.
Smith touted the economic benefits of the project, saying it would add 8,000 new jobs, create $25 to $30 million in municipal property tax revenue, and invest in renewable energy and conservation efforts. She said an offshoot to the Maine Power Reliability Program project is a $450 million Maine Power Connection project that would install a 345 kilovolt line that would link power generated from wind farms in Aroostook County to the rest of the state’s power grid, ensuring that renewable energy source is distributed throughout the state.
“This is a huge opportunity for northern Maine,” said CMP spokesman John Carroll, who also sat in on the editorial board meeting. He added that the economic benefits for the area would be a potential “windfall.”
Transmission lines could also be upgraded here in New Hampshire in the next few years. Public Service New Hampshire, the state’s largest utility, has also been conducting a study on potentially upgrading its electrical lines.
In an email, PSNH spokesman Martin Murray wrote the New Hampshire utility is looking at adding an additional line to an existing 7-mile corridor that runs from Newington to Eliot. He said the project is still in the planning stages and construction could begin in late 2010 or 2011, with an “in service” date of 2012.
By Jason Claffey
11 June 2008
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