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CMP Powerline Facts and Documents

Fred Bever
Maine Public

This story was originally published in March 2019. For the most up-to-date information on the project, visit our guide on Question 1 here.

Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect is a proposed 145-mile high-voltage direct current transmission line from Beattie Township on the Canada border to an existing interchange in Lewiston. That includes roughly 90 miles alongside lines already in an existing corridor between Lewiston and Caratunk, and cutting 53 miles of entirely new corridor from Caratunk north and west to Quebec Province.

The new route would be 150 feet wide and would include an added 75 feet on each side for a buffer and the possible addition of a second line at a later date (a second line would need to go through its own permitting and review processes). Some 850 single-pole towers would be installed on the route, at an average height of 80 feet but sometimes rising more than 100 feet. Roughly 390 of the poles would be located in the new-cut corridor between Caratunk and Beattie Township.

A new converter station would be built near an existing substation in Lewiston, to convert the direct current to alternating current and send it onto the regional electricity grid. And as part of the project, CMP would install new 345 kilovolt lines over a separate 26.5-mile stretch of transmission corridor between Windsor and the Maine Yankee substation in Wiscasset.

Central Maine Power is a subsidiary of Avangrid, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Avangrid’s majority owner is Spanish energy giant Iberdrola. The NECEC would be spun off to a separate Avangrid subsidiary, NECEC Transmission LLC. That company would pay $60 million to CMP in installments when the project goes online. That money would be returned to CMP’s ratepayers.

What is it for?

The transmission lines could carry up to 1,200 megawatts of electricity from Canada’s Hydro-Québec dam system to join the New England grid, ultimately serving 20-year contracts with three Massachusetts utilities. That would be enough electricity to power roughly a million homes. The project’s projected lifespan is 40 years, and Hydro-Québec would be obligated to provide energy to customers in Maine, if they want it, after the initial 20 years.

What would it cost?

CMP pegged the cost at $950 million, although some analysts predict it would be more, when financing costs and a $250 million incentives package CMP is offering the state are included.

It would cost Mainers ostensibly nothing, because Massachusetts consumers are the buyers of the energy and paying for the new transmission capacity. One group of energy-intensive businesses in Maine, called the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, negotiated a deal with CMP guaranteeing Maine residents and businesses would never be charged for project costs.

What would the profits be?

Wall Street analysts estimated the project would net some $60 million a year over the 20-year contract period for CMP and its parent company Avangrid US, itself a subsidiary of Spain-based energy giant Iberdrola. But since that estimate, CMP has offered new incentives to Maine that could affect its profits.

Negotiators from Maine estimated Hydro-Quebec would clear $200 million U.S. in annual profits. Quebec authorities have estimated more, at about $10 billion Canadian in revenues over 20 years.

Why does Massachusetts want this electricity?

In 2008, Massachusetts lawmakers passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which set goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by certain amounts over time. Subsequently the state required electric utilities in the state to seek bids for 1,200 megawatts of land-based renewable energy. Their first choice was a project called Northern Pass, a New Hampshire transmission line that would also depend on electricity produced by Hydro-Québec. But New Hampshire regulators turned the project down. CMP won the bid in the second go-round.

Would it affect electricity prices in Maine?

CMP says, and some independent analysts agree, that the injection of Canadian hydropower into New England would act as a brake on electricity prices in the region. In Maine it could save somewhere between $10 million and $40 million a year. Add in $140 million CMP is offering to subsidize rates for Maine residents and businesses, and the total package could save homeowners around $1.50 a month, according to some supporters. Opponents say it’s more like 10 cents a month. For big energy users such as paper mills, the savings would be more significant.

What's in the incentives package CMP and Hydro-Quebec are offering to Maine?

  • $50 million to help low-income Mainers reduce their energy costs
  • $140 million to reduce rates for all Maine electricity consumers, for 40 years
  • Construction of broadband infrastructure in the transmission corridor and contribution of $15 million to state and local governments to support broadband expansion
  • $15 million to subsidize household purchases of electric heat pumps, to replace oil furnaces
  • $10 million to support the buildout of electric vehicle charging stations and subsidize EV purchases
  • $15 million to support broadband buildout, including $10 million for directly affected communities
  • $5 million for economic development in Franklin County municipalities that would host the powerline
  • $6 million for education-related grants, including to support marine wind energy development
  • Financing to study the enhancement of the Maine transmission grid to support the development of additional renewable generation
  • Financing for a comprehensive study of long-term planning for regional “de-carbonization.”

(Click here to view the incentives and other plan details in a February filing with the Maine Public Utilities Commission.)

What permits would CMP need?

  1. Maine Department of Environmental Protection “Site Location Permit
When would construction begin?

CMP hopes to secure all its permits by the end of 2019 and start construction the same year. The project would go online in 2022.

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.