When Maine voters stopped a controversial hydropower corridor almost two years ago, developers also paused payments on a related deal that would bring $240 million in benefits to state residents.
On Monday, NECEC Transmission LLC and Hydro-Quebec U.S. resumed quarterly contributions to that stipulation agreement, created in 2019 to win Gov. Janet Mills’ backing and subsequent regulators’ approval of their $1 billion project through western Maine.
The sixth installment of quarterly payments this month follows a jury verdict in April that rebuked voters and concluded developers had a constitutional right to proceed with the New England Clean Energy Connect project.
The money, to be paid into an escrow account by the developers from the project’s start in February 2021 over the next 40 years, was aimed at quelling complaints that the transmission line, which extends 145 miles from Hydro-Quebec’s dam system at the Canadian border to Lewiston, doesn’t benefit Mainers adequately. The companies stopped payments in December 2021 following the referendum vote. NECEC Transmission, a subsidiary of Central Maine Power Co.’s parent Avangrid, is organizing the project.
“The stipulation was a big part of the decision to approve the project,” Public Advocate William Harwood said. “A lot still has to be collected, but some of it has already been put to work.”
The money includes a $50 million low-income electricity customer benefits fund, a $140 million rate-relief fund for electricity customers, a $10 million broadband fund, a $15 million heat pump fund and $10 million from Hydro-Quebec for an electric vehicle charging station fund.
So far, the two developers have paid out just more than 10 percent of the promised $240 million in six payments to an escrow account at U.S. Bank National Association. The resumed payments will mostly be made quarterly. Each fund has beneficiary representatives, designated by the stipulation, who can direct the bank to distribute the money to their respective accounts.
One beneficiary is Efficiency Maine Trust, a quasi-state agency that oversees energy efficiency programs. It has received $10.25 million to date, not including the money deposited into U.S. Bank this week. Of that, $2 million so far has gone to provide 508 heat pumps at about half the typical cost to low- and moderate-income Mainers, in addition to sending heat pumps to a Maine school, Michael Stoddard, the agency’s executive director, said.
“The money has enabled us to expand our programs to help Maine consumers lower their energy bills by shifting to high-efficiency electrified products like heat pumps, water heaters and cars and trucks,” he said. “It’s going to be beneficial for the state in the long run to have these lower energy costs.”
The system of 11 heat pumps at the RSU 24 district’s Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus in Sullivan, which used the initial amount for K-12 schools that Efficiency Maine received, is saving 6,000 gallons of oil per year, Stoddard said. That amounts to a savings of $642,000 over the 18-year lifetime of a typical heat pump.
Another $1.25 million of the stipulation funds directed to Efficiency Maine has gone to install 410 new heat pump water heaters for low-income customers. The income levels and qualifications are the same as those normally applied for Efficiency Maine programs. Successful applicants are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis as long as the funds last.
Efficiency Maine also received $2 million from Hydro-Quebec, which will contribute a total of $10 million to expand Maine’s electric vehicle charging network. Efficiency Maine has used the money to award contracts to install speedy “Phase 3-level” chargers along Interstate 95 from Lewiston to Bangor. The network of chargers is already installed in Auburn, Lewiston, Fairfield and Bangor, primarily in service stations off the highway.
Another series of even faster “Phase 4-level” chargers will be installed through Washington and Aroostook counties over the next 12 months, Stoddard said. That will include locations in Baileyville, Houlton, Medway, Presque Isle, Van Buren and Fort Kent.
“We blended the project money with some other funds, so while it is hard to say that it alone paid for the chargers, it was extremely important to enable us to do so,” Stoddard said.
Efficiency Maine also received the full $5 million paid by NECEC Transmission into the Dirigo EV Fund that aims to expand purchases of electric vehicles in Maine. It is directing that money toward rebates for anyone purchasing electric cars and trucks and has disbursed $3.5 million to date.
NECEC Transmission and Hydro-Quebec have each paid $3 million so far into the promised $10 million broadband fund. Before this month’s payment, the Maine Connectivity Authority had drawn $2 million of those funds. It already has allocated half toward community and regional planning, costs to ready utility poles for broadband and connectivity for the last mile of cable to homes and businesses, Andrew Butcher, president of the authority, said.
Use of the total $10 million that will be in the fund also is being coordinated by the Greater Franklin Development Council and the Somerset Economic Development Council and approved by the Governor’s Energy Office and other agencies. Butcher said that, since work on the hydropower project has restarted, use of the remaining broadband funding will be outlined this fall in an updated memorandum of understanding that aligns with the connectivity authority’s broadband strategy for the state.
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.