The dispute over Central Maine Power's proposed transmission line through western Maine landed last night in Farmington, the hometown of Gov. Janet Mills. She strongly endorsed the project last week, but at the town’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, CMP officials faced an audience full of skeptical opponents.
The $1 billion project would bring electricity from Hydro-Quebec's dam system through Maine to serve customers in Massachusetts. It would require cutting new corridor through some 50 miles of western Maine’s forests - and in towns like Farmington, the widening of an existing corridor and taller transmission towers.
CMP spokesman John Carroll told the audience of about 80 people that the project would bring real value to Mainers. Plus, he says, Massachusetts would pay for it.
"The bottom line is Massachusetts is paying to put it into the market," he said. "The entire market moves favorably in our direction as consumers, and then when we buy from that same market, that’s where our benefit comes."
Carroll says the project would lower electricity bills, provide jobs, new property taxes and reduce emission of greenhouse gases produced by New England's energy needs.
But when he started to reel off a list of parties who have agreed to support the proposal, some in the audience lost patience.
"Don't let it happen here, (sir please let him speak) I am much more interested in hearing a Mainer speak than a corporation that has done nothing to earn our trust," said Samuel Day, a former Farmington resident who lives in Portland now.
Day cited CMP's recent billing fiasco as evidence that the company is unlikely to be a good steward of Maine's interests in any endeavor.
"To thousands of people who've had notices sent to their house, threatening their lights being on, threatening their livelihoods, and then shirks their responsibility for that off on some low-level intern, what have you done to earn our trust on anything you say?" Day said.
Carroll acknowledged that the company has work to do to improve its standing in Maine. But while most speakers in the audience - many of them wearing "No CMP Corridor" tee-shirts - criticized the transmission project, there were a few voices of support as well.
Paul Frederic is a selectman in Starks, a member of the Farmington school district. The new property value brought by CMP's investment, he said, "would be equivalent of a town the size of Starks or Temple joining the district, with no kids, no expense - you’re adding something like $41 million in value. So there are local impacts, economic impacts that we should keep in the backs of our mind that do overall contribute to quality of health."
But critics quickly weighed back in. And after the hearing was done, Ken Decker, a Farmington farmer, echoed many who said they felt that political leaders, Gov. Mills most of all, were ignoring the will of the people.
"We're just getting squeezed out. I think our governor was against this while she was running, and now she’s in the seat of having the power, and now she’s our governor, and now she’s onboard with it," Decker said. "Somebody’s got a stake in it."
One representative of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmental group that says the project will harm the state’s natural resources without providing demonstrable pollution benefits, counseled the audience to continue to press the case.
Farmington residents will vote on whether the town should support or oppose the project at Town Meeting on March 25.