Construction crews work on new power lines on April 26, 2021. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The construction of a high-voltage transmission line connecting northern Maine to ISO-New England got the legislative nod this week, bringing a proposed $2 billion Aroostook County wind farm project closer to fruition.

The bill — LD 924, Resolve, to Provide Legislative Approval of Northern Maine Transmission Infrastructure — passed the Maine Senate on Tuesday 24 to nine. On Monday, the Maine House also voted in favor of the bill, 80 to 61.

As dictated by Maine law, the construction of the transmission lines needed legislative approval. The Senate must take an enactment vote prior to sending the bill to Gov. Janet Mills. The House actions are final.

Connecting Aroostook County to the ISO-New England grid could be a game-changer for the region, Senate President Troy Jackson said. Not only would it support quality, good-paying jobs, but it would also grow our supply of cheap, clean, renewable energy, he added.

Longroad Energy’s King Pine wind project, planned for 175,000 acres of forestland in Aroostook County north of Houlton and York-based LS Power’s $2.78 billion, 345-kilovolt transmission line bid for the project was approved earlier this year by Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The project is expected to alleviate issues around renewable energy generation in Aroostook County. Renewable energy projects in Aroostook County face significant economic challenges due to the lack of connection to the New England power grid, according to Jackson’s office.

Currently, energy generated in northern Maine, which includes Aroostook County and part of Piscataquis County, must first go through the Canadian power grid in New Brunswick to be sold to consumers through any American power grid.

In January, Massachusetts agreed to finance up to 40 percent of the selected transmission and distribution projects in return for 40 percent of the energy generated. It is expected to cost Maine ratepayers $1 per month for 10 years, according to Jackson.

The transmission and distribution project must undergo additional permitting. The exact route of the transmission line has not yet been determined, although a King Pine consultant, Al Cowperthwaite, said the new transmission lines will start in Haynesville. Longroad Energy will run transmission lines from Pittsfield to Haynesville to connect into New York-based LS Energy’s 345-kilovolt transmission lines, he said.

If all state permitting is approved for the project, slated to be the largest on the east coast, 170 wind turbines will generate 1,000 megawatts of power and link the region to the New England power grid.

The wind turbines will snake along a large swath of mountain tops from Monticello to Oxbow to Knowles Corner and New Smyrna, Cowperthwaite said.

Jackson worked with partners in Massachusetts to include language in a new law there that would allow the Commonwealth to purchase power through the northern Maine Renewable Energy Program.

King Pine Wind is in the preliminary stages and, if approved, will not start construction until 2026. The utilities commission has asked Longroad and LS Power to provide more specifics related to cost by September.

King Pine Wind is conducting feasibility studies on the environmental impact of the turbines as required by federal and state law, Cowperthwaite said.

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...