VIDEO: 'Power Struggle In The Maine Woods' Series Explores Tensions Around CMP Transmission Project

Mar 24, 2019

Central Maine Power’s proposal to run a new high-voltage transmission line through western Maine seems to grow more controversial every day. Maine Public Radio takes a broad look at why in the weeklong series “Power Struggle In The Maine Woods.”

Maine Public reporter Fred Bever led the effort, and he spoke with host Ed Morin about why he took on this series.

Bever: It’s the biggest infrastructure story to hit the state since the Maine Turnpike. It’s a major energy industry story, one that could set precedent for the nation’s work to move toward a renewable energy future. And there are some major regulatory decisions to be made in the weeks ahead, so now is a good time to explore the moving parts.

Morin: To be clear, the transmission line wouldn’t even serve Mainers, right?

It would take electricity from hydro-dams in Quebec to serve Massachusetts’ need for renewable energy, mandated by state law there.

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.
Credit Fred Bever / Maine Public

Is there money at stake?

A lot. The transmission line would cost around a billion dollars to build, and between them, CMP and Hydro-Québec would earn billions over the next 20 years. Our first story takes a look at some of the big money winners and losers.

But is it just about money?

For people in western Maine, it’s about a way of life. CMP would clear-cut a 53-mile path to bring the transmission line from the Canada border to Caratunk, where it would join an existing corridor and head to Lewiston. A lot of people along the route — rafters, snowmobilers, Maine guides — are mad.

But CMP and Hydro-Québec are offering millions of dollars in economic development assistance to the area.

For some, that’s attractive. But then there are people like Liz Caruso, Caratunk’s first selectman.

“How is that mitigating for raping our natural resources, for polluting our trout streams, for permanently devastating our Maine woods?” she says.

Aren’t there some environmental benefits though — a major influx of renewable hydropower to New England?

That’s what CMP, Hydro-Québec, Massachusetts officials and supporters in Maine say. And those include some, but not all, regional environmental groups. Sean Mahoney heads the Maine chapter of the Conservation Law Foundation and says the project is emblematic of hard choices that need to be made to really make headway in fighting global warming.

“We’re going to be faced with a host of difficult decisions over the next two or three decades as we try to get our arms around the impending disaster of climate change,” he says.

Our second story contends with the environmental and economic tradeoffs involved.

You’ve been spending some time with the people who’d be most directly affected.

I rode a snowcat to the 3,700-foot peak of Coburn Mountain with the guy who cut that trail decades ago, rafted the scenic Kennebec River Gorge in pouring rain and spent a lot of time at kitchen tables in the back country. We’ll bring you the voices of the people who live and work right there, along with an interactive map of the powerline’s proposed route.

It’s getting to be crunch time for CMP to get its state permits.

Utility and environmental regulators in Maine could make their decisions within weeks. And things are just starting to heat up in the Legislature, where lawmakers are looking at various measures that take aim at the project. They could stir a whole new round of controversy, and opponents hope they will.

I’m going to spend some time in Augusta this week and in Farmington Monday, where a major local vote is expected on the project. We’ll report on all of this as part of this series.

This interview has been edited for clarity. For the first installments of “Power Struggle In The Maine Woods,” visit mainepublic.org/power.