The new substation, at the intersection of Eden Street and Prospect Avenue, was energized in 2017. Earlier this month, the last customers served by the old substation on Edgewood Street were switched over to the new system. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Switch to new substation nearly complete

BAR HARBOR — The last customers served by the old electrical substation on Edgewood Street were transferred to the new Acadia substation this month, according to power company Emera Maine.

The new substation, at the intersection of Eden Street and Prospect Avenue, has been operating since last year. “While we have a bit more work to do on this project,” Emera spokesperson Judy Long said, “no other work will involve planned maintenance requiring an outage.”

The substation came with a price tag of $9.3 million, according to Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) documents.

The cost of the substation was one of the reasons that Emera, in 2017, requested a 12 percent increase in the rates it charges customers for distribution of electricity. In June 2018, the PUC rejected the company’s rate case request, allowing only a 5.32 percent increase.

In an investigation separate from the rate case itself, also completed in June, the PUC found “that Emera was imprudent in the management of its Acadia Substation project.” The PUC ruled that Emera could only use $5.6 million of the $9.3 million spent on the project in calculating rates to recoup its costs.

The Edgewood substation, which has been in operation since electricity first came to Bar Harbor in 1892 (see inset), is set to be decommissioned now that the transfer to the new substation is complete. The new Acadia substation will replace both the Edgewood substation and several small padmount transformers — large green boxes in several locations downtown.

There are two other substations in the town, a primary one at Burns Corner (at the intersection of Knox and Gilbert Farm Roads) and a small one at Young’s Corner, near the intersection of Norway Drive and Eagle Lake Road. Both of these will remain in use, Long said.

Work on the new Acadia substation at the site of the former Jordan Fernald funeral home began in 2015. Emera purchased the properties at 6 and 14 Prospect Avenue for $746,000 and demolished the former funeral home building.

No large power lines surround the facility, as all of the connecting cables are underground. The enclosed substation with buried power lines is designed to look like a large carriage house.

“The carriage house stable design that was the result of our collaboration with the owners of the abutting historic property,” Emera representatives wrote in a 2015 email to members of a citizen advisory board. That advisory group was formed after neighbors appealed the building permit for the first site Emera chose for the substation, on Woodbury Road, and protested a plan to run transmission lines along Crooked Road.

The group worked with Elizabeth Swain, the same consultant engaged by the town’s ferry terminal property advisory committee in 2017, to advise Emera on the best site for a substation and route for transmission lines.

A 2015 citizens’ petition amended the town’s land use ordinance (LUO) to disallow “public utility facility” in many districts in the town, including the one where the new substation is located. However, Emera received its building permits for the project before the change took effect.

Both the community engagement process and the unique, enclosed design contributed to the high price tag for the Acadia substation, according to PUC documents.

“The Company argues that it should be allowed to recover its full investment of $9,313,464, because it prudently planned, designed and constructed a necessary substation that resolved identified reliability concerns as planned, and because the Company appropriately engaged stakeholders after local opposition emerged which the Company could not have foreseen,” the PUC order says.

Finishing work on the substation marks the home stretch for the company’s multi-year project to improve reliability of service on MDI. The work began years ago with the installation of redundant power lines coming onto the island beneath the Trenton Bridge. The project has included a new substation in Somesville as well as the Acadia substation in Bar Harbor. It also included new transmission lines along Route 3 and Knox Road.

Future of Edgewood building uncertain

Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb in 1878, but it took awhile for electricity to become available in rural areas. According to the Maine Historical Society’s website, many still considered electricity to be a luxury in the early twentieth century.

This brick building on Edgewood Street has housed substation equipment for Emera Maine and its predecessor, Bangor Hydro, since the 1950s. It was once a generating station for the original Bar Harbor Electric Light Company.

Bar Harbor, however, was on the cutting edge of the new technology. According to a 2014 town report, the Bar Harbor Electric Light Company began generating its own electricity in 1892.

Early on, the electric company was housed in a brick building on Edgewood. That building is still in existence, and until recently it was an active substation, routing electrical current to downtown customers.

“The building was once a generation station for the original Bar Harbor electric utility,” said Judy Long, Communication Specialist for Emera Maine. “Emera Maine and [its] predecessor, Bangor Hydro-Electric Company, have maintained substation equipment at that location since at least the late 1950s.”

Now that the transfer to the new Acadia Substation is complete, Long said that the Edgewood substation will be decommissioned.

“Emera Maine has not yet reached a decision on what will be done with the building,” she said.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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