A project to bring renewable energy to Aroostook County has taken a big step forward.
In this Oct. 6, 2021, file photo, utility lines are seen in Pownal. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine regulators named the winners Wednesday of bids on a renewable energy project that would bring electricity to underserved areas in the northern part of the state, but it still is not clear how much ratepayers will be asked to pay for it.

LS Power Base of New York won the transmission portion of the bid and Longroad Energy’s King Pine Wind of Massachusetts won the power generation bid. The two provided the lowest combined bids for the Northern Maine Renewable Energy Development Program that is planned for Aroostook County.

Maine Public Utilities Commission Chair Philip Bartlett said the project could develop significant amounts of renewable generation in northern Maine at a competitive cost. There also are economic benefits.

“Such projects would provide substantial economic development benefits, property taxes, construction jobs and many other benefits to a part of our state that could surely benefit from these investments,” Commissioner Patrick Scully said.

All three commissioners agreed on the bidders. However, they could not rule on whether the project is in the public interest until they get more information on who will pay for the project and how much Maine ratepayers might have to absorb. And that could depend on whether and how much Massachusetts is willing to kick into the project.

With the $1 billion Central Maine Power Co. hydropower corridor stalled and in legal jeopardy, the Massachusetts energy regulators who hold the keys to the project are preparing alternatives, including the Aroostook project, in the event of its potential defeat.

Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, the major backer behind the project, lauded the commission’s decision. He said renewable energy projects in northern Maine, which includes Aroostook County and part of Piscataquis County, face significant cost challenges due to the lack of connection to the New England power grid.

“We are on the cusp of making what sometimes seemed like a pipe dream, a reality,” he said.

The Aroostook project would carry output from a 1,000 megawatt wind power facility. Bartlett said the cost of the transmission line is about $2.8 billion, although the wind power project is expected to provide a savings of $1.08 billion. That would bring the project’s net cost to $1.8 billion over 20 years.

Bartlett said the combination of the projects is significantly less expensive than the other bids received. The projects will provide benefits to Maine and the region, including jobs during construction, property tax revenue for communities and environmental benefits from new renewable energy displacing fossil fuel.

“The influx of renewable energy into the regional grid will also place downward pressure on electricity prices, benefiting consumers in Maine and throughout New England,” he said.

Still, the project is costly and Maine is looking for partners to shoulder some of the burden. Massachusetts has statutory authority to consider procuring some or all of the Aroostook project. But that state is on a different timeline than Maine and has until the end of the year to decide if it wants to support the project.

“This leaves us in a challenging position because we do not know how much of the cost of this transmission and generation project Maine ratepayers are being asked to finance,” Bartlett said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of savings with wind power. It has been updated.