AUGUSTA, Maine — Top Maine lawmakers agreed Thursday to advance a bill to the 2024 session that would prohibit the use of eminent domain to build a controversial transmission line between Aroostook County and the Augusta area.
The 10-member Legislative Council initially did not approve the proposal from Sen. Chip Curry, D-Belfast, while voting last week on 283 bill requests for 2024. However, the panel returned on Thursday to hear appeals from lawmakers who sponsored measures that were rejected, voting 9-1 to advance the bill pertaining to the Aroostook Renewable Gateway project.
That vote was an indication that the politics around the proposal could be shifting after protests in affected communities over the summer. Both Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, were early backers of the plan. Jackson voted to consider the eminent domain ban, while Stewart opposed doing so.
The $2.8 billion project would link a new Aroostook County wind farm with up to 179 turbines to the regional power grid. The more controversial element is a transmission line that would run between 140 to 160 miles long between Glenwood Plantation and Windsor.
Supporters argue the King Pine Wind project from developer Longroad Energy is a vital energy and economic development project for the region. The power would come from the largest land-based wind farm east of the Mississippi River and produce 3.18 billion kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power up to 450,000 homes.
After the Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills initially approved the project this summer, several towns, residents and farmers have argued it would encroach on private property and have railed against lawmakers for approving the line before developers shared its potential route.
Curry said Thursday he supports renewable energy development but also feels infrastructure “too often gets placed in communities” that are politically and economically disadvantaged.
The transmission line developer, New York-based LS Power, has held several public meetings this year in towns where the route could pass through and has said it is considering feedback before finalizing the route. It published a study this summer that said the line and wind farm will save Maine electricity customers about $900 million over roughly 25 years.
LS Power vice president Doug Mulvey said the company will not comment on Curry’s proposal until it sees the contents of the bill. Mulvey also said LS Power received about 1,000 public comments on the routes the company presented at July town halls.
The Legislative Council declined to advance other bills relating to the transmission line, including one from Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, that would require lawmakers approve any increased costs to ratepayers resulting from the northern Maine project.