If LS Power’s “Aroostook Renewable Gateway” project is truly Maine’s “gateway to progress,” we should expect it to innovate in ways that speed the state toward meeting its climate goals.

So far, however, the same problems that plague green transmission projects across the U.S. – developers’ insistence on erecting massive poles and unsightly corridors, predictable outrage on the part of landowners and environmentalists, legal challenges, competing interests of different providers – are now surfacing here in Maine, putting climate targets at risk.

The ARG would carve a 150-foot-wide corridor through 41 municipalities over 140-160 miles. It would negatively impact hundreds of landowners from its origin in Aroostook County, where it may someday connect to King Pine Wind, to its terminus in Windsor. These unlucky “hosts,” as LS Power calls them, would face significantly diminished property values, the marring of generational land, and the prospect of eminent domain.

The environment would also suffer. An overlay of the route on Google Earth suggests it would entail clear-cutting around 2,000 acres of forest (150’ x 109 miles). If one forested acre removes 5,880 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year, building a corridor this large would mean sequestering nearly 12 million pounds less carbon annually.

And the damage goes further. An independent analysis by the College of the Atlantic’s ArcGIS Lab found that just one 37-mile section of the proposed route (from Dixmont to Windsor) would impact 138 acres of wetlands, four acres of inland waterfowl habitat, 210 acres of deer wintering area and, perhaps most alarmingly, around 87 acres that support special-concern species.

If this is what a “gateway to progress” looks like, imagine the dystopian hellscapes of actual progress. At the recent E4ME Energy Summit, one panelist speculated that meeting the demands of the ISO-NE queue would require the equivalent of 57 King Pine Wind projects by 2050. Even if the number is less, our current approach will mean inviting many more out-of-state firms (like LS Power) to construct a massive “gateway grid” that gouges new corridors into the landscape, wrecking ecosystems and tourism alike.


Little wonder, then, that citizens have expressed fear and anger, protested and formed a grassroots nonprofit, Preserve Rural Maine, that secures legal representation for landowners while imagining a better way to site transmission infrastructure.

Small wonder, too, that citizens have asked: Why can’t we bury the ARG within existing corridors and build it with proven high-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology rather than the standard overhead high-voltage alternating current (HVAC)?

LS Power’s answer is that burying the lines could cost five to 10 times more.

Yet a study by NextGen Highways has found that the cost per gigawatt-mile is comparable for buried HVDC and overhead HVAC. Furthermore, running lines within existing corridors would all but eliminate the cost of clearing new ones; save millions of dollars in environmental impact assessments and mitigation; reduce maintenance and weather-related costs over the system lifetime; curb the threat of expensive lawsuits; offer scalable transmission for future King Pine Wind equivalents with a corridor that’s only 5 feet wide and 5 feet deep; potentially attract millions in federal grant money available for innovative transmission projects; and capitalize on the ability to run fiber-optic cable within the system, helping Maine reach its goal of delivering high-speed internet to rural areas.

Our neighbors have recognized the benefits of buried HVDC and used it in systems comparable to the ARG in length and capacity. Consider the New England Clean Power Link (Vermont), the Champlain Hudson Power Express (New York); and the Twin States Clean Energy Link (Vermont and New Hampshire), recently selected to receive funding through the Department of Energy’s $1.3 billion Transmission Facilitation Program.

Some may say, “But climate change is an existential crisis! ‘Maine Won’t Wait!’ “ I agree. That’s why failing to envision a more innovative project, one that avoids roadblocks to green infrastructure, is bad for the state and bad for the planet. We all must imagine better.

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