Central Maine Power Co. proposes expanding its Cape Substation – near the Knightville neighborhood and the Casco Bay Bridge in South Portland – as part of a $214 million effort to improve its power transmission system in Greater Portland. Staff photo by Derek Davis

SOUTH PORTLAND — Central Maine Power Co. should move rather than expand its transmission substation on the Fore River, near the popular Knightville neighborhood, residents told company representatives Wednesday night.

They also want CMP to reconsider non-transmission alternatives, such as local solar power generation, which might eliminate the need to bring more power into Greater Portland.

Peter Stocks was one of about 20 residents and city officials who attended an information session at City Hall where CMP representatives described preliminary plans to expand what is called the Cape Substation.

Stocks and others described the substation, located on a 25-acre peninsula near the Casco Bay Bridge, as an eyesore and a barrier to the city’s efforts to redevelop its waterfront neighborhoods and increase environmental sustainability.

“It’s a terrible location for a substation,” Stocks said, noting that the substation is a highly visible security issue that will be threatened by impending sea level rise. “Why not look to another location?”

Assistant City Manager Josh Reny and other city officials urged CMP representatives to consider all other alternatives and the potential for the city to provide property tax incentives to move to another location.

The substation project is part of a $214 million effort to improve the power transmission system throughout Greater Portland, including substation proposals in Freeport, North Yarmouth, Cumberland, Gray and Portland.

The city has petitioned the Maine Public Utilities Commission to intervene in its ongoing review of CMP’s Brightline Initiative – the company’s long-term effort to meet state and federal requirements for power reliability and develop an energy grid that can support growth in renewable energy.

South Portland wants to make sure CMP considers so-called “non-transmission alternatives,” such as solar power installations and energy efficiency projects, before the utility regulators approve the company’s plan to expand the power transmission facility on its 25-acre property. Staff photo by Derek Davis

City officials want to make sure CMP fully considers non-transmission alternatives, such as solar power installations and energy efficiency projects, before the PUC approves the company’s plan to expand the transmission substation.

“We’re in the very early stages,” said Brian Ford, a project manager contracted by Avangrid, CMP’s parent company. The permitting process would begin later this year and construction would take place in 2020-2022.

Ford said the substation upgrade is a part of a plan to install a new 115 kilovolt cable from Cumberland to Scarborough, part of which likely will be underground through Portland and under the river to the substation.

The expansion project would increase the substation’s footprint by about one-third to accommodate the installation of new equipment, according to Gail Rice, spokeswoman for Avangrid.

“We’re just going to do some adjustments to the fenceline to accommodate new equipment,” Ford said. “It’s already a substantial installation (and) there is sufficient space.”

Ford also noted that the substation is located in an industrial zone, near a NextEra power generation station. He also said CMP plans to minimize impacts on neighbors, raise the substation to withstand sea level rise in the short term and improve local recreational trails and parks.

The CMP property is valued at $2.3 million and the substation is valued at $33 million, with a combined annual tax bill of $635,400, according to the city assessor’s records. Staff photo by Derek Davis

But while the CMP representatives said they plan to work with the city through the planning stages to make sure it meets local codes, Ford said non-transmission alternatives don’t “appear to be feasible” in this area. They also said cost effectiveness is a priority.

The plan to upgrade the substation comes as the city tries to control development in its increasingly popular waterfront neighborhoods, including a 2014 ban on loading crude oil into tankers that the Portland Pipe Line Corp. is challenging in federal court.

In addition, the city has developed a master plan for the nearby Mill Creek shopping area with village-style housing mixed in. And it has started working on an update of the Knightville master plan that’s expected to account for growing demand to live and work in the waterfront neighborhood.

“There are many people in this city who are looking beyond the tanks (and) it seems this addition is moving us the other way,” said City Councilor Claude Morgan. “I would ask you folks to really think outside the box.”

Councilor Sue Henderson noted concerns about potential health impacts and the city’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. In addition to installing electric car charging stations and building a 2,944-panel solar farm on its capped landfill, the city has partnered with Portland to develop a climate action plan that would reduce carbon emissions 80 percent citywide by 2050.

The CMP property is valued at $2.3 million and the substation is valued at $33 million, with a combined annual tax bill of $635,400, according to the city assessor’s records.

CMP is Maine’s largest electricity transmission and distribution utility. It operates about 23,500 miles of distribution lines and 2,900 miles of transmission lines, serving 624,000 customers in 346 communities in central and southern Maine.

In addition to building or upgrading several substations throughout Greater Portland, the Brightline Initiative calls for upgrading transmission lines through Gray, North Yarmouth, Yarmouth, Freeport, Cumberland, Falmouth, Westbrook and Scarborough, according to a CMP notice filed this month with the PUC.