Most of northern Maine, including a large portion of Aroostook and part of Washington counties, is an energy island that is dislocated from the rest of the northeastern power grid, ISO New England.
A bill to connect that island to the New England power grid has passed the state House and Senate, and is awaiting action from Gov. Janet Mills. It would allow the region to export renewable energy to the rest of the northeast, which legislators and advocates hope will bolster economic development in one of the state’s most rural areas. It also solicits bids on new renewable power plants in northern Maine — a potential source of new jobs and tax revenues.
LD 1710 would not change the way northern Maine residents receive their power.
Should the governor sign LD 1710 into law, the Maine Public Utilities Commission has until November to put out a call for bids to build the transmission lines between the New England grid and northern Maine. The path and length for this line does not exist yet — the bill is a first step in a years-long development process and the PUC has until March 2022 to choose between proposals.
The connection will offer an alternative to the current system — in which energy generated in northern Maine has to be wheeled back into New Brunswick, through NB Power, before it can travel through power lines to the United States.
This efficiency was behind the deterioration of previous renewable energy efforts in the region — in 2018 and 2019, ReEnergy closed its two biomass plants in Aroostook County citing the disconnect from New England as a major source of financial strain on their northern Maine locations.
There are a handful of large renewable energy plants in and planned for Aroostook County, including existing wind farms in Mars Hill and Oakfield, an additional wind farm planned for Mars Hill and a solar plant planned for Presque Isle.
Renewable energy projects have received some pushback in The County in the past, with residents displeased with both the imposition of the plants themselves and lower-than expected economic returns for local towns.