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Lawmakers take up renewable energy project proposed for Aroostook County

In this file photo made July 14, 2009, wind turbines line a ridge on Stetson Mountain in Washington County, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
In this file photo made July 14, 2009, wind turbines line a ridge on Stetson Mountain in Washington County, Maine.

State lawmakers are being asked to approve a nearly $2 billion energy project that would connect Aroostook County to the New England power grid. But some skeptics aren't ready to sign off.

Earlier this year, the Public Utilities Commission endorsed Maine picking up $1 billion of the price tag to build a massive wind farm and transmission line in Aroostook County. Developers of the so-called King Pine Wind project and related transmission line estimate it will take at least three more years to secure all of the permits they need from state and federal agencies.

Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash says the project will create jobs in his area while generating 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy at rates that are expected to be lower than those being charged by natural gas power plants.

"Unleashing the economic and energy potential of Aroostook County is no longer just a possibility but is actually on the crux of becoming a reality. All that's left is for the Legislature to approve the construction of the northern Maine transmission line," he says.

The Aroostook County project is being touted as a way for Maine, Massachusetts and other New England states to displace power generated by fossil fuels. Under an agreement approved by the Maine PUC, Massachusetts ratepayers will pick up 40% of the project's costs because the renewable energy will go toward that state's climate goals. The PUC estimates that the $1 billion cost to Maine comes out to about $1 per month for the average Maine ratepayer over the next decade.

But the exact terms of the purchase agreement have yet to be finalized, so some lawmakers say Jackson's proposal is premature.

"We don't know what the savings are in terms of kilowatts," says Rep. Larry Dunphy, a Republican from Embden who serves on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. "We don't know where the corridor is going but this is our one shot at either supporting it or not supporting it?"

Regulators in Maine and Massachusetts are expected to finalize purchase agreements with the developers by this summer.