Massachusetts utilities signed an agreement Thursday to bring hydropower from Quebec through Maine via a new 145-mile transmission corridor.
The agreement is a necessary step for Central Maine Power Co.’s New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project. The Augusta-based company wants to build a transmission corridor to bring renewable power from Hydro-Quebec to markets in Massachusetts, where regulators have adopted strict clean-energy goals. Key to that proposal is the agreement with Massachusetts electric distribution companies to buy the power at a rate that makes the project financially feasible.
“The conclusion of these negotiations marks a significant step forward for the NECEC and the people of Maine, who will realize lasting economic benefits from this initiative, including new job creation and targeted investments such as expanded broadband access in western Maine,” Douglas Herling, CMP president and CEO, said in a prepared statement.
The distribution companies will now seek approval from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities for the 20-year power contracts.
The $950 million project is controversial in Maine, where environmentalists and others warn of natural vistas ruined by the sight of high-power transmission lines, especially around the Kennebec River Gorge, over which the corridor is expected to pass. The line would run from Beattie Township, on the Canadian border north of Route 27 and Coburn Gore, through Farmington and Jay to Lewiston, where it would connect to the regional electric grid.
Last week, the nonprofit Western Mountains and Rivers Corp. signed a memorandum of understanding on a mitigation plan that would result in CMP investing $22 million in conservation projects and nature-based tourism as compensation for the negative impacts of the proposed transmission line that would cross the gorge.
Several organizations, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Appalachian Mountain Club, have lodged objections to the project.
But others see the jobs created by the project and the tax revenue associated with the corridor as welcome news. CMP has met with, and so far gained support, from 95 percent of the communities along the route, said John Carroll, spokesman for CMP parent company Avangrid. They will share $18 million a year in new tax revenue, he estimated.
NECEC will need several government permits in Maine, environmental reviews by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and international border crossing authority from the State Department.
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