Thorn Dickinson, CEO and president of NECEC Transmission LLC and vice president of business development at Avangrid, speaks with Kim Lindlof, Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce president and CEO and executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, at the Chamber’s business breakfast Thursday at the Waterville Country Club. Greg Levinsky/Morning Sentinel

OAKLAND — Pending a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, construction on the New England Clean Energy Connect will start early next month, the head of the NECEC Transmission company told members of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce at their October Business Breakfast on Thursday.

Thorn Dickinson Photo courtesy of Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce

Thorn Dickinson, CEO and president of NECEC Transmission LLC and vice president of business development at Avangrid, Central Maine Power’s parent company, touched on the history and future impacts of the project, also known as the CMP Corridor project. A 30-year energy industry veteran, Dickinson works in creating and growing sustainable and clean energy projects.

“I’m proud about this project,” Dickinson said. “I really believe that in five years from now, we’re going to look back as a state and realize all of the benefits.”

Kim Lindlof, Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce president and CEO and executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, opened the breakfast event with remarks expressing support for the project on behalf of the chamber.

Sens. Russell Black, R-Franklin; Scott Cyrway, R-Kennebec and Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, sent a letter to Lindlof later Thursday saying they were “troubled” that only one side of the controversial corridor project was presented at the event. They are requesting a second business breakfast so members may hear from opponents of the project.

“No CMP Corridor would like to thank Sens. Russell Black and Scott Cyrway, as well as Rep. Dennis Keschl for publicly calling on the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce to allow both sides of the NECEC corridor debate to be presented to their membership,” said Sandi Howard of No CMP Corridor.

“It’s troubling that this group has chosen to put the will of two foreign corporations before that of more than 4,000 area residents who signed our petition last year to bring this issue to a statewide vote.

“The NECEC corridor would have a devastating impact on Maine’s renewable energy and tourism industries, which is why it’s so important for the Mid-Maine Chamber to allow our side to address their membership with equal time, rather than blindly taking sides. I sincerely hope that they decide to do the right thing.”

An effort by those opposed to the project to put the question to a vote on the Nov. 3 ballot failed in the courts. In August, the Maine Supreme Court rejected a citizens’ initiative to propose a referendum on the corridor.

The high court ruled the proposition did not meet constitutional requirements. The ruling said that citizens cannot vote to reverse a decision made by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The biggest opponents to the project, Dickinson said, are fossil fuel and oil generators, a grassroots movement and a group from the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Dickinson said hearing from the opposition helped the project improve.

The project consists of a 145-mile power line corridor connecting Hydro-Quebec to New England’s regional energy grid through western Maine. NECEC will provide up to 1,200 megawatts of hydropower through to Lewiston via Quebec.

Dickinson said the NECEC will provide power equal to 80% of Maine’s power load and 10% of New England’s overall power need. It is expected to bring in $1 billion in jobs, taxes and other benefits to the state by 2027.

“When I look back now, there are definitely mistakes or things that I would’ve done differently,” Dickinson said. “The biggest one was my assumption that this is good for Maine and everyone’s going to love it, and that sounds so naïve in hindsight.”

Dickinson said he feels “incredible gratitude” for pioneering the project despite a “crazy train of a ride.” He remembers sitting with a few engineers brainstorming the project years ago, and the group came up with a handful of ideas. They ultimately went with the NECEC.

“For a project that has made so much noise in the state, I did not expect that to happen when we began,” Dickinson said. “It’s an idea we felt very good about. For this specific project, we were very excited about the opportunity once we started to move forward.”

The Central Maine Power substation in Lewiston and an existing corridor through the Forks helped lay the groundwork for the project. Negotiations for the land began in 2013. In 2016, Massachusetts passed legislation for clean energy goals. In 2018, the project was chosen by Massachusetts for their clean energy initiative.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities is paying for the entire project. Massachusetts and all of New England will see lower energy prices and cleaner energy. Dickinson said Maine receives the same benefits as Massachusetts, plus an “economic stimulus” in the form of jobs and tax revenue.

Construction is split between union and non-union sectors. Cianbro, Sargent and NCI are also contributing. More constructors are signing on to the project.

“I think it’s a better project than it was,” Dickinson said. “It was a great project in the beginning, but it’s even better now.”

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