BAR HARBOR — The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has opened a formal investigation into Emera Maine’s plans to run new power transmission lines and build a new power substation near downtown. The decision comes nearly six months after the PUC received a formal 10-person complaint about Emera’s plans.
“We agree that although both parties have made a concerted effort to reach consensus during the informal advisory committee process, a formal investigation would be beneficial to bringing this matter to resolution and determining whether (Emera’s) proposed implementation of its reliability solution for MDI is reasonable,” PUC director Harry Lanphear stated in a Nov. 14 notice of investigation.
While the plans for new power lines from Town Hill to downtown and for a new substation were the subject of separate complaints, PUC officials find that they are substantially related enough to join together in one investigation. According to a timeline set forth by the PUC, an initial case conference was to take place on Nov. 21, with the first technical conference set for Jan. 15 at the commission’s Hallowell office.
The 10-person complaints were filed in May by Town Hill residents upset with the power line plans and by residents living on or near Woodbury Road upset with the substation plans. Attorney and Woodbury Road neighbor Arthur Grief is the legal muscle behind the complaints.
Three parties have filed petitions to become part of the formal hearing process. These include the chamber of commerce, the Acadia Inn and the Bar Harbor Inn. If accepted, these business interests will be given the right to participate in the hearings and negotiations. All three state in their petitions that power outages have had a negative impact on business and must be addressed.
“On July 5, 2014, one of the busiest days of our tourism season, Hurricane Arthur knocked out power in downtown Bar Harbor for 14 hours …. In an interview with the Mount Desert Islander newspaper, a business owner estimated that the outage resulted in a loss of over $1 million to the downtown business community,” chamber of commerce director Chris Fogg wrote. “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.”
Opponents of the substation plans have stated that the Woodbury Road area is too residential for such an industrial use. Emera officials have said that they considered many locations in their search and the location was the only suitable one that they found.
Emera, formerly Bangor Hydro Electric Company, has labored for years to improve power reliability in Bar Harbor and on Mount Desert Island. This effort began with the installation of below-ground power lines coming onto the island several years ago and was followed by construction of a new power substation in Somesville. The proposed new transmission lines and substation downtown represent the final phases of their plans. The construction of a new substation would lead to the dismantling of the power generator site on Eagle Lake Road, as it would make the backup source unnecessary.
Following the submission of the 10-person complaints in the spring, Emera halted all groundwork at the proposed substation site and said they would examine alternatives and meet with neighbors to try to reach an amicable solution. Opponents of the project have claimed that the process has been disingenuous, especially after Emera brought business community representatives onto the committees.
According to Maine statute, a public hearing on the 10-person complaints must be held within nine months of the original filings.