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How The CMP Transmission Project Could Fit With Gov. Mills' Climate Change Agenda

David Sharp
AP Photo
Maine Gov. Janet Mills holds a 1-pound block of carbon to make her point as she talks about her decision to support a transmission project that would bring Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts residents, on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019

As Gov. Janet Mills builds out her climate agenda, it could get a boost from the deal-making around Central Maine Power's proposal to build a new transmission line through western Maine.

Early in her inaugural address, Governor Mills outlined her climate change goals.

“Our administration will embrace clean energy, change our modes of transportation, weatherize homes and businesses, and reach a goal of 50 percent of our electricity coming from Maine renewable resources,” she said on Thursday.

And the state's largest utility, Central Maine Power (CMP), is ostensibly getting on board with that agenda. In a memorandum of agreement with two environmental groups — the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Acadia Center — CMP explicitly agrees to support an array of carbon-reduction efforts.

They include Mills' goal of doubling Maine's use of renewable energy sources.

"From our perspective there is real value to re-thinking the model of utilities, the business practice of utilities," says Sean Mahoney, the director of CLF's chapter in Maine.

He says his group's side agreement and an overall CMP deal, which Mills signed on to last week, could transform the way CMP approaches energy issues.

The utility agreed to support some policies that utilities have shied away from in the past, such as encouraging development of local electricity supply sources that can reduce the need for expensive investments in poles and wires.

Mahoney says CMP's signature commits it to a $2 million analysis of potential "non-wires" investments in Maine, such as large-scale solar arrays or grid-scale batteries.

"Yes we would like to think that CMP is going to change and be amore progressive utility,” Mahoney says. “But we also are not so naïve to think that this just happens overnight.”

And some key players are far from convinced that's it's going to happen.

"I have real concerns about portions of this MOU," says Rep. Seth Berry, a Democrat from Bowdoinham.

Berry co-chairs the legislature's Energy Committee. He's a strong Mills supporter, but is also a long-time CMP foe.

"The notion that we're going to put Central Maine Power in charge of proposals that compete with their own proposals is absurd,” he says. “It's the fox guarding the henhouse. So I am absolutely shocked that anyone would suggest that that's a good idea."

CLF's Mahoney says his group's agreement with CMP includes an annual reporting requirement to that will help ensure accountability.

CMP spokesperson John Carroll says the company, owned by the Spain-based energy giant Iberdrola, signed the agreement at least in part because it could be transformative.

"While people have paid attention to the dollar amounts in there, we think what's more important is what represents sort of an emerging consensus with groups like CLF and then with the new administration, to start in a new direction for Maine," Carroll says.

Whether CMP's proposed transmission project will be permitted by regulators in Maine and Massachusetts remains to be seen. And if permits are won, it's possible the Legislature may move to stall or even kill the project. That could be the true test of just how dedicated the company is to the Governor's new energy agenda.

Originally published Feb. 28, 2019 at 5:02 p.m. ET.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.