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Maine ratepayers to pay $1B for Aroostook wind power line

Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News, Maine  


    Jan. 31—A state regulator on Tuesday said Maine ratepayers would foot the bill for 60 percent of a massive new Aroostook County wind power line that will link the region to the New England electric grid.

    The share for Maine ratepayers would be $1 billion, or $1 per month for the average consumer over the first 10 years of the contract. Massachusetts in December said it would pay a portion over 20 years by procuring 40 percent of the project's generation and transmission.

    The Maine Public Utilities Commission had to determine by law that the project and costs are in the public interest, and the three commissioners agreed that they are on Tuesday.

    The Legislature still needs to approve the project, a condition required by the 2021 referendum for projects with high-voltage transmission lines. Both projects also must win permits from the commission and other state and federal agencies, including land-use permits from the Department of Environmental Protection.

    The project is the biggest part of the new Northern Maine Renewable Energy Development Program, which passed as part of a 2021 state law aimed at bringing clean power and jobs to Aroostook. In October, LS Power Base of New York won the transmission portion of the bid and Longroad Energy's King Pine Wind of Massachusetts won the power generation bid.

    With the $1 billion Central Maine Power Co. hydropower corridor stalled and in legal jeopardy, the Massachusetts energy regulators who hold the keys to the project are preparing alternatives to meet their own energy goals, including the Aroostook project, in the event of its potential defeat.

    The progress on this project will help alleviate long-standing challenges, said Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who sponsored the measure leading to the project.

    Renewable energy projects in Aroostook County have faced significant economic challenges due to the lack of connection to the New England power grid. Energy generated in northern Maine must go through the Canadian power grid in New Brunswick to be sold to consumers through the American power grid.

    "Maine is in the midst of an energy crisis and the key to meaningful energy relief is in our own backyard," Jackson said.

    The Aroostook project would carry output from a 1,000-megawatt wind power facility. The cost of the transmission line is about $2.8 billion, although the wind power project is expected to provide a savings of $1.08 billion. That would bring the project's net cost to $1.8 billion over 20 years.

    Commission Chair Phil Bartlett said he hopes the two bid winners will find other parties to contribute to the project and alleviate the burden on Maine ratepayers. The funding should come through the state budget or a bond instead of by raising electricity rates, Commissioner Patrick Scully suggested.

    "We should not bury these costs in electricity rates that disproportionately impact the elderly and our low income and moderate income citizens," he said.

    The Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmental group that fought the CMP corridor, was quick to applaud the commission's decision, saying it is an economic boost to local communities and a win for New England electricity consumers.

    "These are exactly the types of Maine-based clean energy projects we'll need to stabilize energy prices by reducing the region's dependence on fossil fuels," said Jack Shapiro, NRCM's climate and clean energy director.


    (c)2023 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)

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