AUGUSTA — The Maine House voted Thursday to require that electric utilities obtain approval from local governments before using eminent domain to take private land for elective upgrades to transmission lines.

The bill, which received initial approval on a vote of 83-59, is a response to Central Maine Power’s proposed 145-mile transmission line through western Maine. Yet even if the bill survives additional votes and a potential gubernatorial veto, it may not affect CMP’s project because the company has rights to the entire corridor as currently envisioned.

Nevertheless, supporters said the measure was needed to correct a state law that they said allows utilities to seize private land and bypass municipal governments for projects that may not benefit local electric customers.

“All we’re asking is that the corporations go to the towns that want them there and not infringe on the liberties of the towns that do not want them,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chad Wayne Grignon, R-Athens. “Protecting people’s property rights from state government, federal government or corporations is vitally important.”

The bill would require local municipal officers – or county commissioners in unorganized townships – to sign off on a utility’s use of eminent domain to seize land within that municipality for a “high-impact electric transmission line.” The requirement would apply to transmission lines that are 50 miles or longer and capable of producing 200 kilovolts or more of electricity.

Supporters want electric utilities to follow the same eminent domain process that other companies must follow. Current law allows an exemption from municipal approval for public roads and public utilities.


“If passed, L.D. 1383 would apply the same rules to these extension cord (transmission line) projects … that currently apply to all other private business projects, whether it is a solar farm, a wind farm, a vegetable farm or a Cumberland Farms,” said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “The rules of the past have served us well.”

Opponents, however, warned their colleagues against passing a bill that sought to “change the rules” in the middle of the game.

“My fear is that, in our zeal to oppose a single project, we are creating an unintended consequence of regulatory instability. And believe me, investors are watching,” said Rep. Christopher Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, who worked on global projects in the electric industry.

Another opponent, Rep. Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery, also connected the bill to the CMP project even as supporters said they were merely trying to fix a loophole that goes against Maine’s tradition of “local control.”

“I believe in local control for local issues. If you vote in favor of this bill, you will be allowing a single community – 69, population – to veto a project that affects our whole regional grid and that would lower electrical prices.”

CMP has already received a key certificate from the Maine Public Utilities Commission and is still in the midst of the permitting process with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Land Use Planning Commission.

CMP officials have said that they have “all of the right, title and interest for the project” along the entire existing corridor from the Maine-Quebec border to the grid-connection point in Lewiston. But company officials have acknowledged that the DEP or other regulatory agencies could require CMP to reroute the transmission line.

Thorn Dickinson, vice president of CMP’s parent company, Avangrid Networks, said eminent domain would only be used as a “last resort” if the company were required to reroute the corridor.

The bill now goes to the Maine Senate for consideration. But the initial House vote of 83-59 is less than the two-thirds majority that could be needed to override a veto if it were to pass the Legislature but be vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills, who supports the CMP project.

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