HARPSWELL — A Canadian company is proposing a 350-mile, sub-sea power transmission cable that could interfere with commercial fishing along the coast of Maine.
If the project is approved, the Atlantic Link cable would be buried about 25 miles offshore of Harpswell, running between New Brunswick, Canada, and Plymouth, Massachusetts. It would affect about 400 lobstermen from Cape Elizabeth to Phippsburg, according to spokesman Gerald Weseen of the Nova Scotia-based energy services company Emera.
Weseen and other project representatives, and staff from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, conducted a meeting about the project April 21 that drew only two area lobstermen.
“Most of the (interference) is pretty workable,” Glenn Rogers, a Mackerel Cove fisherman from Orr’s Island, said Friday.
Late last month, a collection of Massachusetts utility companies sent out a request for proposals targeting clean energy services in response to a clean energy procurement mandate from that state’s Legislature, Weseen explained.
He said Emera’s plan to channel 900 megawatts of hydro and wind power is the only sub-sea option competing against about a half dozen other proposals.
The bids are due by the end of July, he said. If Emera is awarded the project, it would have to acquire energy import and export permits from the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Construction would take place in phases over three years, be completed in December 2022, and disrupt local fishing areas for a sequence of several-day periods as engineers and surveyors move down the coast, Weseen said.
It would cost $2 billion to build, a figure Weseen noted does not include the price of the land-based energy generation fed through the cable.
Because construction would occur in phases, Weseen said, the company would give area fishermen notice of when and where the company would shut down a corridor of commercial fishing areas with a row of buoys.
Surveying would cause more interference and engagement with fishermen while the cable is laid, he said. The cable is the circumference of a two-liter soda bottle and will lay in a trench dug by a hydro-plow.
About 400 lobstermen hold permits to haul in Zone F, the state-designated area for lobstering that extends from Cape Elizabeth to Phippsburg, according to Kendra Jo Grindle of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.
Weseen said after input from fishermen, the company will consider altering the proposed route to avoid disrupting marine environments and commercial fishing. He and other company representatives have met with about a dozen groups of fishermen along the coast so far this month.
For example, the proposed route has the cable passing through the channel between the continental coastline and Grand Manan Island, in Canada. But based on resistance from fishermen, Weseen said the route might change to pass around the island, pending an assessment.
Grindle noted that fishing interference would most likely occur in the winter, when lobstermen are hauling that far from the coast; during the warmer months, most lobstermen stay within state waters – about 3 miles out – there are usually enough lobsters to make a living all summer.
Still, Rogers said the inconvenience would only affect lobstermen with traps in the proposed area.
With enough prior notice, he said, those traps could easily be moved beyond the corridor of construction, where there would likely be lobsters. Lobstermen are already used to this kind of maneuvering, he also noted, such as when shipping vessels arrive in the area.
Grindle has notified Zone F lobstermen of the proposed project, as well as fishermen who hold other permits, like ground fishermen.
She attended a meeting last week in Port Clyde, and reported little concern from the four fishermen in attendance, not unlike reactions in Harpswell.
While some trawlers were concerned about dragging over the cable, she reassured that most local fishing boats aren’t powerful enough to unearth the cable, which will be buried 6 feet underground, deep enough to avoid a potential snag.
She said Emera has been receptive to feedback from fishermen, who have also informed project officials about marina obstacles –such as reefs, and unstable seafloor “soup holes” – the company should plan around if and when it comes time to lay the cable.
edited 4/25: An earlier version of this article misstated the voltage and proposed service date of the cable.