The state Public Utilities Commission held its third and final public witness hearing Wednesday night on Central Maine Power's proposed 145-mile transmission line through western Maine. Opponents outnumbered supporters and the two camps held widely divergent views on whether the project would hurt
or help Maine's economy and environment.
CMP wants to build the $950 million project to bring hydro-electricity from Canada down through western Maine to Lewiston. There it will join the regional grid to serve customers in Massachusetts, which wants to buy the low-polluting energy to meet its goals to reduce greenhouse gases.
But for opponents such as Sherye Harth of Jackman, the question comes down to this: Why should a way of life followed by residents and businesses in western Maine be sacrificed to profit CMP's parent company Avangrid, and Massachusetts' policy goals?
"The leaders of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont refused this industrial infrastructure to preserve their natural beauty," Harth said, "and we think Maine should do the same."
Harth also objects to the transmission line's footprint. It would cut a 150-foot-wide swath through western Maine's woodlands.
"I just think this ugly brown monster that is being proposed is going to be forever," Harth said. "I think that there are alternatives that may cost more to these multi-billion dollar conglomerates. But we the people of Maine are the ones who will have to carry this burden."
Many echoed that sentiment. But a handful of municipal officials touted the added property taxes they would get from the project. And several speakers in the construction trades emphasized the building jobs that would be created.
And Bill Berney, an engineering director at Stantec Consulting, says he's impressed by CMP's claim that the project will result in a reduction in electricity rates worth $40 million a year in Maine.
"It should also be noted that the boost to economic activity is fully funded by the state of Massachusetts," Berney said. "Our neighbors in Massachusetts are going to fund this project and benefit the infrastructure here in the state of Maine. I ask why don't we start Monday if Massachusetts is funding it?"
Another speaker called on opponents to consider the stakes; if low-polluting energy resources such as hydro-electricity are not encouraged, he said, global warming will threaten catastrophe in just a few decades. Others questioned, though, whether hydro-dams are so benign and whether Canada's
Hydro-Quebec would have to backfill its commitments to Massachusetts by buying more-polluting energy from fossil fuel plants.
"Some places should be left alone for the sake of being left alone," said Cecil Gray. Gray is a Skowhegan resident who has earned a living, rafting, hunting and guiding photographers in the Bingham area. He said the project poses an existential threat to the region's entire tourism economy - and more.
"We in the affected area live work and play there for the nourishing of the soul that the North Woods provides," Gray said. "The economy of the area thrive(s) on those who spend money seeking a glimpse of the same thing. There is no price on that. The way life should be should not be for sale."
Dozens spoke at the three-plus-hour hearing, which was attended by more than 75 people. The state regulators now move on to hearings limited to parties and individuals that have petitioned for formal intervenor status. It's a mix of supporters and opponents, as well as the state's public advocate, who is
charged with defending ratepayers' interests. A decision could come in late December.