PORTLAND, Mane — Maine utility regulators on Tuesday gave final approval to a wind power project that would provide enough electricity for at least 450,000 New England homes along with construction of a new transmission corridor in northern Maine to get the electricity to the regional power grid.
The unanimous vote by the Maine Public Utilities Commission on two projects bearing a net cost of $1.8 billion comes after Massachusetts endorsed the proposal, becoming a partner on the 1,000-megawatt project and allowing the costs to be shared by a larger pool of ratepayers.
Under the plan, Maine ratepayers would be responsible for 60 percent, or about $1 billion of the costs, officials said. The average ratepayer would pay an extra $1 per month over the first decade, officials said.
"Developing renewable resources in northern Maine is a tremendous opportunity, and one that is critical to achieving decarbonization goals in Maine and New England. With support from both Maine and Massachusetts, I'm confident the selected projects are viable and give us the best chance to achieve a successful outcome," PUC Chair Phillip Bartlett said.
But commissioners still had reservations over the cost. They encouraged the participation of additional parties to further reduce costs for Maine ratepayers. Although Commissioner Patrick Scully supported the project, he suggested general revenue or bonds should be used to fund such projects to ease the impact on ratepayers.
The northern Maine project is separate to a $1 billion proposal fully funded by Massachusetts ratepayers that calls for a proposed 145-mile transmission line in western Maine that would be a conduit for 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to reach the New England power grid.
Maine voters rebuked that project, called the New England Clean Energy Connect, and it remains mired in a legal battle.
For the new proposal, state lawmakers directed Maine utility regulators to choose the projects to boost transmission capacity and renewable energy in Aroostook County.
Last fall, the PUC chose LS Power Base for a 345-kilovolt transmission project and Longroad Energy's King Pine for a wind generation project. It calls for about 179 wind turbines west of Houlton.
Together, the projects would benefit the state by lowering electricity rates, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions, officials said. The project also allows far northern Maine to be connected to the New England regional grid for the first time.
"Maine is in the midst of an energy crisis and the key to meaningful energy relief is in our own backyard," said Senate President Troy Jackson, who's from the northern Maine community of Allagash.
Dan Burgess, who leads the Governor's Energy Office, said the projects would "reduce our dependence on volatile fossil fuels and deliver significant new job and economic opportunities to communities in northern Maine."
The project could produce 1,000 megawatts of power when the turbines are operating at peak efficiency — enough power for as many as 900,000 homes. Longroad Energy projects that the electricity will be adequate for 450,000 homes on average annual basis.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine vehemently opposed the New England Clean Energy Connect but praised the northern Maine project because it supports home-grown wind power.
"Infusing our electric grid with wind energy sourced from Aroostook County is an economic boost to local communities, a win for New England electricity consumers, and a promising example of regional collaboration on our energy future," said Jack Shapiro, NRCM's climate and clean energy director.