BAR HARBOR — Opponents of Emera Maine’s plans to build a power substation on Woodbury Road are opposing requests by the local chamber of commerce and other business community members to be directly involved in the Maine Public Utilities investigation into the project.
Under PUC rules, interested parties may petition for standing in PUC investigations. So far, Ocean Properties hotel group, Witham family hotels, the chamber and the Jackson Laboratory all have done so, with each claiming a major economic reliance on consistent power and an interest in seeing substation upgrade plans move forward.
Lead opposition attorney Arthur Greif, however, has filed documents with the PUC opposing involvement of these groups. While Greif’s protests list several reasons in support of his claim, he mainly focuses on one aspect: that the focus by the petitioners on the need for a substation is not germane to the case, because no one denies that a new substation is necessary. Greif and other opponents are protesting the appropriateness of Woodbury Road for the development, he states, and not whether the development itself is appropriate.
“The complainants have never questioned the need for a new substation,” Greif wrote in a Nov. 25 memorandum to the PUC. “No one is questioning the need for a substation, and the petition to intervene, in its focus on power outages, misperceives the entire nature of the proceedings. It references an issue that will not be germane to the actual decision the commission will make as to where the substation will be built.”
The petitions to intervene do, in fact, focus on the need for power system upgrades downtown. Each references the July 5 power outage this year, when Hurricane Arthur caused blackouts downtown for at least 14 hours, and other, similar outages that occurred over the course of the summer.
Most recently, most of downtown Bar Harbor was offline again for four hours during a storm on Nov. 26.
“In meetings with Emera Maine, we have learned that their planned construction of a new substation would prevent or shorten future outages. The members of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce urge you to consider the negative impacts these outages have had on our business community and to find an affordable, common-sense solution to this on-going problem,” chamber director Chris Fogg wrote on Nov. 19.
A more recent petition for standing from Bar Harbor Resorts director Eben Salvatore put the issue in even starker terms. Bar Harbor Resorts is a subset of Tom Walsh’s Ocean Properties hotel group and owns the Harborside, West Street Hotel, Regency, Days Inn, Bar Harbor Whale Watch and several restaurants downtown, employing approximately 800 people seasonally.
“On Saturday, July 5, 2014, our hotels were without power for 14 hours …We lost more than $500,000 in one day. Four more outages in July only added to this misery. Seasonal hotels are not designed for power outages,” Salvatore wrote to the PUC on Dec. 1. “It is my understanding from meeting with Emera Maine representatives that the power grid in Bar Harbor has long since reached its limit and the proposed substation is necessary to prevent and/or minimize future outages. We cannot afford many more outages to prove their point.”
Beyond the alleged non-germane qualities of these petitions, Greif further outlines that none of the petitioners explain the “nature and extent of the participation” they seek, nor do they articulate the “nature of the evidence or argument” they wish to submit, both qualifications which are necessary to be granted intervener status according to PUC rules.
Each intervener, Greif argues, “merely wishes to argue a point that no one else contests, and the petition to intervene should be denied.”