Mark Bancroft runs a general contracting company in South Paris that was started by his father. One of Bancroft Contracting’s biggest competitors is Cianbro Corp., the largest construction company in Maine.

For the next 4½ years, at least, there will be plenty of construction work for Cianbro, Bancroft Contracting and many other Maine companies, thanks to a $1.4 billion project to upgrade Central Maine Power Co.’s high-voltage transmission lines.

On Monday, CMP announced three contract awards worth a total of $524 million.

The winning contractors are from out of state: MYR Group Inc. of Illinois; Irby Construction Co. of Mississippi; and Hawkeye LLC of New York. All, however, are expected to employ subcontractors from Maine.

Bancroft Contracting has already been working on the project, doing site preparation since September. And Pittsfield-based Cianbro is in a partnership with Irby Construction.

“It’s what we call an integrated joint venture,” said Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue. “We at Cianbro will obviously be using Maine people to do the work we’re performing.”

Vigue said Cianbro, which recently completed a similar project in Vermont involving construction of a substation and 54 miles of transmission lines, will build four new 345-kilovolt substations in Maine — in Cumberland, Lewiston, Windsor and Benton. Work on a fifth new substation, in Gorham, is nearly complete.

John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP, estimated that 1,000 new jobs will be created by this phase of the Maine Power Reliability Project, which is scheduled to run into the middle of 2015.

A job fair will be held Jan. 18 at the Augusta Civic Center for individuals and companies interested in the project.

Another 800 related jobs are possible, according to a 2009 study by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine.

In addition to the larger substations, “there’s going to be work on dozens and dozens of smaller substations to accommodate this,” said Carroll, who called it the largest energy project in Maine history, and possibly the largest construction project of any kind in Maine.

After a long and often contentious approval process, the project began in September with a goal of updating a 40-year-old system to reinforce reliability, add capacity and increase efficiency. When it’s complete, about 440 miles of new transmission lines will run through 75 cities and towns, from near Bangor to Maine’s southern border with New Hampshire.

In addition to creating jobs for the construction industry, which has an unemployment rate that Vigue estimated at 20 percent, the upgraded lines offer potential to transmit a new generation of renewable energy.

“It may be wind, it may be biomass or tidal or wave action,” Carroll said. “Whatever is on the horizon, we did need a higher capacity in our grid to serve that supply in the future, and we’ll do it more efficiently.”

The cost of the upgrade is being shared by ratepayers in New England, with Maine residents contributing about 8 percent. Carroll said that over 15 years, the effect on the average Maine homeowner’s monthly bill will be about 21 cents.

John O’Dea, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, a trade group with 275 members, said the construction industry employs about 22,000 workers — 6,000 fewer than it did five years ago.

“The real story,” he said Monday, “is that in a construction market that is substantially smaller than it’s been, there’s a half-a-billion dollars in new work going out.”

“It couldn’t come at a better time,” said Bancroft, whose company in South Paris employs 170 people. “A dollar of construction spins off more than a dollar of economic activity. I can’t quote the statistics, but I know it’s going to be good for this whole community.”

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]