Doug Mulvey and his company, LS Power, wanted to minimize the risk of their multi-billion-dollar bid for a 160-mile transmission line that would bring wind power through Aroostook County and onto the New England grid.
So they asked the Maine Legislature in March to approve the project, and by June they received it. The approval was required under provisions of the citizen initiative passed by voters in 2021 that also had aimed, unsuccessfully, to derail another large project — a Central Maine Power Co. affiliate’s hydropower line through western Maine.
The Aroostook wind project is the first high-impact transmission line covered by the new Maine law.
Not everyone was pleased by the project being approved so quickly. Some Republican lawmakers questioned in a legislative work session whether more information, including the final route for the project, should be submitted first.
Mulvey said it is an unusual step for a state to require, and it took more than four months to get the nod from Maine lawmakers, but it was necessary to protect his company’s investment.
“I’m not aware of any other state where legislative approval is required for a project like this,” said Mulvey, vice president of project development for LS Power. “I’ve never gone through that.”
The 33-year-old private company, which develops, invests in and operates electricity infrastructure, has installed more than 680 miles of transmission lines across the United States.
The law created after the citizen initiative does not specify how and when to apply for approval, but getting early confirmation of a project from the Legislature rather than waiting until it is already in progress adds certainty for developers like LS Power, Maine Public Advocate William Harwood said. His office has not taken a position on the project.
“If they think the Legislature still has a veto right, that’s way too much risk,” Harwood said. “So you’ve got to consent to the building of this line.”
LS Power agreed that the first step for any project it proposes is whether the state is willing to allow it. Mulvey said his company was aware of efforts to retroactively require legislative approval for the CMP affiliate’s hydropower project. Critics of the Maine referendum had worried that if the hydropower corridor was stopped it could send a signal to other prospective developers that their multi-million-dollar plans might be reversed by the state.
“There would have been a concern of investing a ton of money in the state and then having a lot of uncertainty later in the process,” Mulvey said.
The law spawned by the referendum requires that any high-impact electricity project longer than 50 miles and substantially altering the land must be approved by the Legislature, as would any project that uses public lands. The Aroostook project exceeds the mileage limit.
The companies behind the Aroostook Renewable Gateway project are LS Power of New York, which intends to build the 345 kilovolt transmission line, and Longroad Energy’s King Pine Wind of Massachusetts, which is responsible for the 170 wind turbine array that would be able to generate 1,000 megawatts of energy to run through the transmission line. The project is being billed as the largest of its kind on the east coast.
Founded in 2016, Longroad Energy owns 1.5 gigawatts of wind and solar projects across the United States. It is owned by two New Zealand companies, NZ Super Fund and Infratil Limited; MEAG of Germany; and Longroad Energy Partners LLC. Both companies have extensive operations across the United States.
The LS Power transmission line would run from Glenwood Plantation to Dixmont or Detroit, with substations in the two terminus locations and a third near Coopers Mills Road in Windsor.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission chose the companies last October in two separate bids because they had the lowest combined amount for the project and had the experience to build it, PUC Chairman Philip Bartlett said.
The entire project is projected to cost ratepayers $1.7 billion over 30 years. The cost of the power line is expected to be $2.8 billion, but it would be offset by lower electricity prices driven by the wind turbines over 20 years. These are estimates, however, as the final costs to consumers won’t be known until energy contracts with utilities are completed.
Central Maine Power and Versant Power ratepayers would pay for 60 percent of the project, or about $1 billion, with three Massachusetts utilities paying for the remaining 40 percent.
The PUC, LS Power, Longroad, CMP and Versant are currently negotiating contract rates for the power with the Maine and Massachusetts utilities. Bartlett said he hopes those negotiations will conclude soon so that the project can move ahead. Mulvey said one unusual aspect of the project is that it aims to get a fixed rate for the utilities for 20 years, which will provide more stable prices for consumers.
Both companies still must get various local, state and municipal permits, including from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Land Use Planning Commission, which oversees the unorganized territory.
LS Power must also get a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the PUC for the power line. That certificate would give LS Power the right to acquire land for its project by eminent domain. LS Power is still determining the route for the project, which it expects to go into service by the end of 2028 or early 2029.
The project could develop significant amounts of renewable generation in northern Maine at a competitive cost and boost the regional economy, including with thousands of jobs. Longroad’s King Pine Wind farm is expected to produce about 3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, which the company said is enough to power roughly 270,000 homes per year in Maine and 180,000 homes in Massachusetts.
Longroad also said the wind farm will help avoid about 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, equivalent to removing 260,000 vehicles from the road. The proposal will help Maine reach its climate goals of 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050, supporters have said.
“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,” PUC Commissioner Patrick Scully said when the bid winners were announced.
The Legislature has been looking at tapping the ample wind available in Aroostook County for at least a couple decades, which is one of the reasons why the current project was approved, sources familiar with the project said.
It was quick to set new laws in motion. Two main bills propelled the Aroostook wind project.
Testimony on the first bill, LD 1710, to spur development of renewable energy in northern Maine, began on June 16, 2021. It was enacted into law soon after, on June 29. The PUC issued a request for proposals for the Aroostook project on Nov. 29, 2021, and chose winning bidders, LS Power and Longroad, on Oct. 26, 2022.
The bids and names of other bidders are confidential, according to the PUC.
Then the Legislature approved a second bill, LD 924, to greenlight the project for the bidders the PUC had selected. Gov. Janet Mills signed that bill into law on June 22, 2023. Both bills were sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.
The project is unusual in that there were two separate requests for proposals, one for the power generation and another for the transmission line. Adding another level of detail, the transmission line can handle 1,200 megawatts of power, but Longroad is only supplying 1,000 megawatts. A potential third company could be chosen to supply the remaining 200 megawatts under LD 1943 governing future energy procurement.
The next big milestone for Longroad’s part of the project is getting power purchase contracts with CMP, Versant and the Massachusetts utilities, Chad Allen, director of development at Longroad, said. The company also is studying the land for its turbine array, which it has under option. In 2017 Longroad purchased the assets of First Wind, which had an option on the land signed in 2011.
“We need to ensure that the land is appropriate and suitable to construct the project,” Allen said.
LS Power, which owns the Kibby Wind Power Project in Franklin County, is also focused on the contracts. It plans to hold additional meetings with local communities. It already has held six public meetings attended by more than 700 people and is using that feedback to help finalize its transmission route, Mulvey said. The company has heard people’s concerns about the route crossing agricultural fields and property with planned new homes.
“We’ll have another series of open houses later this year,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the amount of energy the King Pine Wind turbine array will be able to produce. It is 1,000 megawatts.
Lori Valigra is an environment reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She may be reached at email@example.com. Support for this reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.