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Maine land-use agency staff backs Central Maine Power transmission line

The staff of a Maine regulatory agency that oversees land use in unorganized rural areas of the state said Central Maine Power Co.'s proposed New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line project is allowed under state land-use rules.

The determination, contained in a Dec. 30, 2019, memo to the Maine Land Use Planning Commission, comes ahead of a Jan. 8 meeting where regulators are scheduled to discuss the transmission project from Central Maine Power, or CMP, an Avangrid Inc. subsidiary.

The 1,200-MW, high-voltage, direct-current line would run 145 miles from the U.S.-Canada border in Beattie Township, Maine, through the state's western forests to Lewiston, Maine. The Land Use Planning Commission is responsible for deciding the project's route that passes through two protected scenic rural areas: the Kennebec River Gorge and near the Appalachian Trail.

According to staff, the project is an "allowed use" in the areas, provided CMP moves ahead with measures to limit the impact to recreational areas and wetlands. The project also "complies with all applicable land use standards, with conditions related to the public health, safety and general welfare standard ... and traffic."

CMP has agreed to bury the line near the gorge. At a segment of the transmission line near the Appalachian Trail, which would run alongside an existing transmission corridor, CMP plans to plant shrubs to provide a visual buffer.

The project's route had once included crossing near the government-protected Beattie Pond near the Canadian border in Franklin County. However, to overcome a stalemate at the Land Use Planning Commission, CMP in September 2019 offered to change the route to avoid the remote pond.

The land use commission is one of the last Maine agencies that has to sign off on the transmission line. The state's Public Utilities Commission voted in April 2019 to issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project. The transmission project is also going through the permitting process with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

At the federal level, permits are still needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Energy, according to the project's website.

The transmission project was selected as the winning bid in a Massachusetts solicitation for clean energy resources to help the state meet a 2016 emissions-free electricity mandate. In June 2019, Massachusetts regulators gave permission to local electric distribution utility subsidiaries of Eversource Energy, National Grid USA and Unitil Corp. to contract for 1,090 MW of hydroelectric power from Hydro-Québec over the transmission line. CMP projects the line to be in service in 2022.