A sign opposing the Aroostook Renewable Gateway Project, proposed by LS Power, is seen in August along Route 137, near the town line of China and Winslow. Scott Monroe/Morning Sentinel

Maine legislators are looking for a middle ground between developers of electricity transmission lines needed to deliver clean energy and property owners demanding more of a role in deciding where giant towers are built.

Lawmakers on Tuesday took up a proposal that would limit the use of eminent domain – the government’s power to take private property for public use at “just compensation” – to build a transmission line.

It’s one of several bills this session that could change how such projects are reviewed and approved. Other pieces of legislation governing and studying transmission lines are scheduled for separate reviews.

The state needs more transmission lines to meet its clean energy goals, which require broader reliance on wind and solar energy, battery storage and energy efficiency.

Regulators in December rejected a project that would have connected a large wind farm in northern Maine to the New England grid via up to 160 miles of overhead lines between Aroostook County and Greater Augusta. The state Public Utilities Commission scuttled the transmission line – called the Aroostook Renewable Gateway Project – after developer LS Power said it could not hold to its price.

For months, residents also voiced concerns about towering transmission lines that would cut through farmland and forests, and several towns along the planned line have passed measures to temporarily block it.


If the project ultimately moves forward, the wind farm in northern Maine that would generate the energy to be transmitted along the power line would be the largest onshore wind project east of the Mississippi River. Its turbines could generate as much as 3.2 billion kilowatts, which is enough electricity to power 450,000 typical homes – more than half of Maine’s housing inventory.

Maine ratepayers would pay for 60% of the project’s electricity output and Massachusetts has committed to the other 40%.

“Maine’s and Massachusetts’ energy gain would be a burden on the backs of rural Maine property owners,” Carole L. Getchell of Corinth told lawmakers in written testimony. Eminent domain shifts the balance of power to the “taker, not the property owner,” she said. Corinth, a town of about 2,900 people in Penobscot County, is in the path of the proposed LS Power transmission line.

Opponents also say landowners and local officials were not sufficiently involved in the process of choosing a site for the line and that lawmakers initially approved it before seeing the proposed route.

Maine is not unique in attempting to restrict the government’s ability to seize land for public uses. Illinois lawmakers, for example, are reviewing legislation that would give property owners more of a say in the taking of private property for pipelines storing carbon emissions. Efforts in state legislatures to limit or consider restrictions on eminent domain picked up speed following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that a Connecticut city’s taking of property to sell for private development qualified as a public use.

While Maine has been looking to its expansive access to the Atlantic Ocean for offshore wind, the Aroostook power line would be a significant overland wind power project.


Supporters of the $2 billion wind farm say it’s critical for the rural region’s economic development.

Sen. Chip Curry, D-Waldo, who presented the eminent domain legislation, L.D. 2087, on Tuesday told the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee that a group negotiating details is looking to protect the rights of property owners “without killing all transmission lines.”

Following meetings with developers and environmental and labor groups, Curry said he sees “likely consensus coming soon,” possibly by Friday.

Some areas of agreement are a requirement that mailed notifications about the transmission line and its local impact be conspicuous and not resemble “junk mail,” and include a guide for landowners on how to participate in a public review.

Other ideas that have been agreed to are giving property owners the choice to sell the entire property or an easement as part of eminent domain, and reimbursing property owners for legal representation, Curry said.

The Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization, said the legislation as initially drafted would allow a “small handful of landowners, or even just one” to block new development of renewable energy transmission in northern Maine.


Sean Mahoney, the foundation’s vice president and senior counsel, instead suggested that developers negotiate “community benefit agreements,” that they be required to involve stakeholders in project design and analyze alternatives and reach out in other ways to property owners.

The Association of General Contractors also opposes the bill, telling lawmakers in testimony that building transmission systems in Maine “has become increasingly difficult.”

The legislation would affect other projects, not just the Northern Maine Renewable Gateway, the group said.

And the Maine Renewable Energy Association said without eminent domain, the northern Maine project might not attract interest from developers.

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