A 591-foot wind turbine towers over the tree line at the Weaver Wind project site two years ago in Hancock County. The project’s developer, Boston-based Longroad Energy, now proposes building nearly 200 turbines in Aroostook County. Courtesy of the Ellsworth American

Clean energy from the north, to help New England states meet their climate goals. Lower electric rates for Maine customers, with Massachusetts picking up the tab. High-voltage wires strung through Maine forestland and utility corridors, requiring approval as a “high impact transmission line” from the Legislature.

Sound familiar?

No, it’s not the New England Clean Energy Connect project. That’s the beleaguered plan involving Central Maine Power Co., and now mired in court battles, to bring electricity from Quebec through western Maine.

This venture’s called the Northern Maine Renewable Energy Development Program. The product of a 2021 state law, it could become the next big thing on Maine’s energy landscape.

Picture 179 wind turbines, with blades reaching longer than a football field from the ground to the rotor hub. They would stretch across working timberland centered in Webbertown, an unorganized township near Route 11, northwest of Houlton.

The proposed King Pine wind farm would be the largest onshore wind project east of the Mississippi River. Rated at 1,000 megawatts and expected to produce 3.18 billion kilowatt-hours a year, the $2 billion project could generate enough electricity to power 450,000 typical homes when running full tilt. The wind farm would be built by renewable power developer Longroad Energy of Boston.


Power would flow over a new transmission line running more than 100 miles from southern Aroostook County to Pittsfield. Designed to carry up to 1,200 megawatts, the line would be built by the New York-based energy infrastructure developer LS Power.

But crucial details have yet to be decided, such as the precise route of the corridor, how wide it would be and its potential impact on land that’s important for ecology and recreation uses. These were also issues that drew opposition to the NECEC project.

LS Power declined requests to provide even a preliminary sense of where the transmission lines will run. In a statement, the company said it would be working with Maine and Massachusetts officials and other parties on potential routes. Some of these specifics are contained in the company’s filings with state utility regulators, but are redacted from the public version.

“We are committed to consistently conducting direct public outreach, including through a series of public open houses and listening sessions across the project area starting in the spring of 2023,” the company said, “where we will seek feedback on potential transmission line routes, design information and other project specifics.”

But while the route hasn’t been disclosed, information and transmission maps from the region’s grid operator, ISO-New England, suggest one possible path.

In this scenario, the King Pine wind farm would run a smaller line to connect to a new substation that LS Power would build in southern Aroostook County, near Haynesville. From there, a new, high-voltage transmission line would follow an unspecified path to Pittsfield, which LS Power has identified as the southern end of its project.


To link with the regional grid, the project would build a new substation in Pittsfield and connect to a major corridor already nearby, the Orrington-Albion Road 345-kilovolt transmission line. Power would flow along that corridor to Coopers Mills and end at an upgraded substation at the former Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset.


The wind farm and transmission line were selected in November by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The agency spent months scrutinizing competing proposals that sought to satisfy the law’s criteria, including the cost to ratepayers, economic benefits to northern Maine and contribution to the state’s climate goals.

The combination of these two projects will help lower wholesale electricity prices in Maine and New England, the commission determined, and save Mainers $1.08 billion over 20 years, based on contract payments minus estimates of future energy costs.

But there’s a catch: The PUC’s selection was conditional. The commissioners said they couldn’t yet determine whether the costs to Maine electric customers were “reasonable and in the public interest.”

And for now, the actual costs of the power contract are confidential. Details of these and other key costs are redacted in publicly available documents.


That uncertainty stems from another clean energy law, this one passed in August in Massachusetts. A section of that law encourages the commonwealth’s energy office to coordinate with other New England states on cost-effective clean energy projects. The office has until Dec. 31 to decide if these two ventures meet criteria in the law.

That decision is crucial for the Maine project, and everyone involved is anxiously waiting to see what Massachusetts decides. The PUC wants to know if a partnership with Massachusetts – or perhaps another New England state – could offset the cost to Maine electric customers.

Essentially, Maine wants to know how much of the wind power Massachusetts would buy over a 20-year contract and how much that cost-sharing would benefit Maine ratepayers.

The PUC commissioners asked the agency’s staff to complete a report on this regional partnership potential by Jan. 15.

It’s one step in a complicated process. Both projects need to be approved, in both states. If that happens, each project will face the typical regulatory reviews in Maine from state and federal agencies. These would include winning a certificate of public convenience from the PUC, land-use permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and approvals from ISO-New England and federal agencies.

Plus, there’s a new step. In the fight over the NECEC project, a referendum approved last year by Maine voters requires legislative approval for projects that meet the definition of a high-voltage transmission line. This would be the first test of that requirement.


Taken together, these and other hurdles will push the proposed operations date to 2028, according to estimates from LS Power.

But so far, the Northern Maine Renewable projects don’t seem to be on a collision course with environmental activists, who have opposed NECEC. Although the specifics aren’t publicly known, the general route doesn’t appear to bisect the same kinds of high-value recreational and wildlife habitat as the project to the west. Those lands include a 53-mile swath of forest that NECEC cleared through the Kennebec River valley of western Maine, until the project was put on hold last winter.

“It’s hard to say until we can see the route and understand from LS Power their plan for community engagement,” said Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy program director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Key details won’t emerge until the projects start their permitting processes, Shapiro said. But the NRCM is optimistic, he said, because of the climate benefits of 100% wind power that could displace natural gas generation, especially in winter, when winds blow strongest in Maine.


There’s a lot of excitement over the prospects for the line because it represents the best opportunity yet to complete a missing link. Aroostook County isn’t directly connected to New England’s electric grid. Economic development boosters have been trying for decades to find someone to bridge the gap. At least two other large wind farm proposals north of King Pine’s site – EDP Renewable’s Number Nine project and Clearway Energy’s County Line venture – have been stalled, partially due to lack of grid access.


The potential was highlighted last month by Senate President Troy Jackson, who lives in Allagash and introduced the northern Maine energy program bill.

“After more than 60 years talking about what it would mean to unlock the transmission and distribution of Aroostook County power for the region and the state, we are on the cusp of making what sometimes seemed like a pipe dream, a reality,” he said after the PUC selected the projects.

That feeling was echoed by a public-private business coalition in The County.

“Aroostook County has long been recognized as having great potential to supply renewable energy to Maine and New England, but has not been able to cost-effectively do so because of our grid disconnectedness,” said Paul Towle, president and chief executive at Aroostook Partnership. “(The new legislation) finally addressed what had prevented us, and Maine, from being able to tap our enormous wind, solar and biomass potential.”

Towle’s comment was contained in a letter to the PUC. In an allusion to the stalled NECEC project, he said that northern Maine was eager to embrace large-scale renewable projects “that seem nearly impossible to complete elsewhere in Maine.”

In fact, the King Pine project would be south of two other commercial wind farms, in Mars Hill, built in 2006, and Oakfield, in 2014. Those and nine other wind farms in Maine were erected by members of the same development team involved with Longroad, including Matt Kearns, the company’s chief development officer.


“We’ve got a long track record of delivering wind projects in Maine,” Kearns said. “And I think we’ve been really pleased with the reception we’ve gotten in the past in The County. Hopefully, we’ll experience the same thing again.”


For the next month, attention will focus on the pending decision from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and Attorney General’s Office.

Those agencies signed a memorandum of understanding last October with the Maine PUC, outlining terms by which the Bay State will consider the northern Maine energy proposals. The terms are based on requirements in a recently passed clean energy law in Massachusetts. They include: providing cost-effective clean energy for ratepayers, especially in the winter; helping to meet decarbonization goals; avoiding or minimizing impacts on the environment; and having a credible project schedule, including financing and construction.

That last requirement is notable because Massachusetts has been burned by signing on to big, ill-fated energy proposals. Its bid to get power from Quebec via the Northern Pass project in New Hampshire fell apart in 2018. Then the commonwealth pivoted to the NECEC project, which is now years behind schedule. More recently, developers of ocean wind projects off southern New England have balked at mounting costs.

“These sort of bumps in the road with offshore wind, I think that argues for projects like northern Maine, so you don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” said Jeremy McDiarmid, a vice president at the Northeast Clean Energy Council in Somerville, Massachusetts.

The New England states are moving toward a power supply system when energy use will peak in the winter months, he said, as high-performance electric heat pumps replace fossil fuels, notably natural gas. The states will need to work together to achieve the goal of lower-cost renewable power, often called beneficial electrification.

“I expect Massachusetts to do a similar analysis to Maine,” McDiarmid said. “I’m cautiously optimistic there will be a positive result that works for both states.”

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