Central Maine Power Co. is scheduled to meet Tuesday with stakeholders to negotiate potential benefits agreements in exchange for the construction of a proposed 145-mile transmission line project bringing hydro-power from Quebec to Massachusetts through western Maine.

The meeting, which will take place at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Public Utilities Commission in Hallowell, comes as the New England Clean Energy Connect project remains under consideration by state and federal authorities.

The PUC is expected to make a decision on permitting by the end of March or early April. In the meantime, opposition to the project has been growing over concerns about the impacts on the environment, landscape and tourism.

CMP has estimated the $1 billion project will bring more than $18 million annually in property tax revenue in the three counties the project will run through, as well as other benefits such as construction jobs, lower energy costs and enhanced opportunities for broadband internet.

But some local officials have called on the company to do more and have raised concerns about a competing project proposal in New Hampshire that included $200 million in community benefits for local residents and a recent agreement between CMP and Massachusetts to offer $50 million in energy assistance to low-income customers in that state.

“I’m excited to see what’s there,” said Rep. Scott Landry, D-Farmington. “I want to see what we can get for our community, though who knows if it’s going through or not with all the opposition out there.”

Landry, who is also a selectman in Farmington, is part of a group of Franklin County officials who earlier this year pushed for $27.6 million in benefits for the county, including $16.55 million in waived fees to help secure broadband access and another $11.1 million to be spent by CMP over 20 years for things like education, economic development and projects in individual towns.

Negotiations appeared to halt in August after the group said CMP cancelled a meeting with them to discuss the benefits, but Landry said Monday he is optimistic.

He said he received a phone call Friday from Thorn Dickinson, vice president of business development at CMP, about the settlement hearing but did not have specifics on what the company is proposing.

“We’re going to be at the table at the settlement hearings,” Landry said. “We’ve been told the counties that are involved are on the table, and they’re looking at us.”

CMP spokesman John Carroll said Monday he could not comment on any specific proposals the company might be seeking to negotiate Tuesday.

“This is a timely step forward for the New England Clean Energy Connect,” Carroll said in a statement. “We believe many of the parties in the case recognize the broad benefits for Maine and the region. We are hopeful these discussions will bring about a fair and reasonable agreement that serves the interests of the various parties in the case and that is consistent with public interest.”

The project proposes 145 miles of transmission line through Androscoggin, Franklin and Somerset counties in a corridor already owned by CMP. And while officials in a majority of communities initially signed letters of support for the project, mounting opposition in recent months has led some to revoke or reconsider their positions.

In a statement Saturday, Sandra Howard, a spokeswoman for the opposition group Say NO to NECEC, said there is “no amount of short-term money” that could make up for the impacts to Maine’s natural environment and tourism.

“Parties that wish to settle for their own profit interests should dig deep into their conscience before selling out Maine to benefit corporate profit interests,” she said.

Tuesday’s meeting is only open to commission staff assigned to the case, CMP and 29 other parties who have been approved by the commission as being directly impacted by the project.

If a settlement is reached, the terms will become public and could also be used by the commission to solicit further feedback and in preparing a final report on whether the project should be approved.

The Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, which focuses on finding solutions to the environmental challenges facing New England, is among the approved parties and one of those who have called for concessions from CMP.

In a brief filed with the PUC Friday, the foundation said it has concerns related to the project’s potential negative impacts on renewable energy and the prospects of future renewable energy projects in Maine.

It also called for more benefits in Maine, including improvements to Maine’s power grid so it can better deliver local renewable energy, funding to help Mainers transition to clean electric vehicles and energy-efficient heat pumps, community development funds, critical land conservation protections and a commitment to increased broadband access for the communities affected by NECEC.

“Clean Energy Connect has the potential to significantly reduce New England’s climate-damaging emissions,” said Sean Mahoney, executive vice president and director of CLF Maine in a news release. “But any approval of the project must depend on CMP providing greater economic benefits for Maine families and businesses, better safeguards for our environment, and a clear path to boost local clean energy here at home.”

The Maine Office of the Public Advocate is also among those approved to participate in the settlement conference and has argued the project be approved only on condition CMP form an affiliate to oversee the NECEC and protect Maine ratepayers from any associated risk and that the company provide additional community benefits.

Other groups approved to participate in the settlement hearing include the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Governor’s Energy Office, Maine Renewable Energy Association, Western Mountains and Rivers, Friends of Maine’s Mountains and the Acadia Center.

The communities of Alna, Caratunk, Farmington, Jackman, Lewiston,  New Sharon and Wilton are also approved, as well as the Franklin County commissioners.

In addition to new property tax revenue, CMP has said the project will generate $73 million annually in compensation during construction; create $40 million to $45 million in annual savings through lower energy costs; enhance broadband opportunities in western Maine; and generate $23 million annually in gross domestic product for Maine.

The company also negotiated a $22 million package with a Somerset County group, Western Mountains & Rivers Corp., on behalf of whitewater rafting, tourism and recreation interests and, in another concession to critics, agreed in October to bury a portion of the planned transmission line under the scenic Kennebec River Gorge.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected] 
Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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