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Maine Lawmaker Proposes Using Existing Oil Pipeline To House CMP's Controversial Transmission Line

Fred Bever
Maine Public
CMP's proposed transmission line would cross right over the trail Duane Hanson uses to get to his off-the-grid home near the Canadian border.

A South Portland lawmaker says that instead of cutting a swath through western Maine's forest to accommodate its controversial transmission project, Central Maine Power instead should put the line inside an unused oil pipeline that runs from Canada to South Portland.Rep. Christopher Kessler represents Cape Elizabeth and part of South Portland. He says he supports the idea of bringing low-polluting hydro-electricity from Canada into the regional grid - but not via CMP's proposed overhead high-voltage line through western Maine.    

"The people of Maine are telling us very loudly that they don't want this project," Kessler says.

So he's introduced a bill to study the feasibility of placing that high-voltage electricity infrastructure  inside the existing Portland Pipeline, which runs mostly undergound from Montreal to an oil tank farm in South Portland.

It used to carry oil up to Canada. But recent efforts by its owners to reverse the flow and bring oil form Canada to South Portland have been stymied by the city's "Clear Skies" ordinance, and the pipeline has been largely unused in recent years.

Kessler says that's opened an opportunity for the CMP project.

"It's just one of those ideas where it takes some outside-of-the-box thinking," he says. "And as you can see with this proposed corridor project, it's very much inside the box, very typical plow through the forest, put up poles and call it good."

Kessler's bill would impose a moratorium on CMP's western Maine project until a feasibility study of the idea of repurposing the oil pipeline could be completed. And although CMP's chief lobbyist in Augusta, Jim Mitchell, told Kessler the company is interested in the concept for the future - his proposed moratorium on the present project makes the bill a no-go.

"There is no suggestion on CMP's part that there is an alternative to the currently proposed project, both because of the time it would take to re-permit a different route, and also because we believe this is the best route to serve not only that project but to benefit Mainers," Mitchell says.

Kessler's measure is one of several that aim to slow or stall the CMP project, and it gets its first public hearing in in the Legislature's energy committee Wednesday. 

Originally published 6:52 a.m. April 17, 2019.

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.