Yarmouth group to propose alternatives to CMP transmission line project

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YARMOUTH — It has been more than a year since Central Maine Power Co. submitted a formal request to the Public Utilities Commission to upgrade transmission lines throughout Maine, but public hearings and discussions continue.

In Yarmouth, a group of residents are taking their concerns to Augusta and plan to offer alternatives to having high-voltage transmission lines run near their homes.

According to Charles Cohen of the PUC, the Yarmouth residents were expected to attend a technical conference on Friday, Sept. 25 to discuss three alternatives to the proposed CMP plan, but the conference has been postponed. Cohen said the conference has not been rescheduled at this time.

The CMP proposal, the Maine Power Reliability Project, is a $1.5 billion plan to upgrade the high-voltage transmission system from Orrington to Portsmouth, N.H.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said the upgrades are necessary to maintain the reliability of the power grid, to prevent future blackouts and to meet future power demand in New England.  

He said the original line was conceived in the 1960s and built and energized in 1971. CMP’s proposal is to construct a new transmission infrastructure, including a new 345-kilovolt line; upgrade 20 substations, and add five new autotransformers in Kennebunk, Gorham, Benton, Lewiston and on the Cumberland-Yarmouth town line.

The width of the existing lines would be expanded, and towers would be taller. In its initial report to the PUC, CMP said the “transmission routes proposed have been chosen to minimize the impact on Maine’s citizens,” and that nearly 100 percent of the routes lie in existing CMP rights-of-way and require only minor extensions.

But a group of Yarmouth residents believe the lines are too close to their homes, and have filed alternative plans with the PUC. According to the Yarmouth Intervenors Alternative Evaluation Summary, there are three ways to move the transmission lines.

One alternative would be to relocate the proposed Raven Farm substation in Cumberland. The substation is on Middle Road, on the boarder of Cumberland and Yarmouth. The alternate locations suggested are in Westbrook near Lorenzen Hill, on the Falmouth-Westbrook town line, and on the west side of the existing transmission line corridor in Falmouth. Another alternative would be to shift the transmission alignment to allow for a vegetated buffer between the new transmission line and the abutting neighborhoods. The third option would be to place the 345-kilovolt transmission lines underground.

Carroll said these suggestions are a normal part of the proceedings, and are valid concerns.

“We want to find a way to work with abutters and the community to address their concerns,” he said. “If there are alternatives, we will try to work with the intervenors to solve their concerns.”

Sometimes, Carroll said, there are issues with permitting, real estate availability and costs that don’t permit changes. In this case, it would cost about $16 million more to move the substation from the Cumberland location, he said. The second alternative would cost about $500,000 in structural costs, and the third option, going underground, would cost about $19 million. 

“Right now we are trying to accommodate all the questions and concerns and put all options on the table for people to discuss,” Carroll said. “By figuring out if we can accomplish these alternatives technically, we can then figure out if it is feasible.”

Members of the Yarmouth Intervenors declined to discuss their position, but state Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes, D-Yarmouth, said the transmission project’s size and expense requires that every detail be researched and explored for cost containment and satisfying property abutters concerns.

“My constituents in Yarmouth, as well as community members in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, have stayed involved throughout this process to ensure that the most accurate information is used in the final decision making of power expansion in this area,” she said.

To follow the process, visit the the PUC virtual case file and enter 2008255 in the case ID field. All documents concerning the MPRP can be found there. For a list of upcoming meetings, visit the PUC Web site.

This story was updated Sept. 24.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net