Emera halts power plans

BAR HARBOR — Plans by Emera Maine to run new power transmission lines from Town Hill to a new substation downtown are on hold until as late as 2016. The company will not begin either project until a new process to find a location other than Woodbury Road for the downtown power substation is completed.

The lot for the “Acadia Substation” on Woodbury Road is already cleared of trees and construction was scheduled to start this month. But with growing protest over the installation from nearby residents, the company is now actively looking for an alternative site. Until one is chosen, there is no sense in running the new transmission lines, company representatives say.

In filings this week with the Maine Public Utilities Commission responding to official complaints about the project, company attorneys Nora Healy and Nathan Martell state that the company will enter into a collaborative process with neighbors and other stakeholders while actively looking for another workable location for the substation. While the substation plans are put on hold, so too must plans for the new transmission line be shelved, the lawyers say.

“With the decision to delay construction of the Acadia Substation, the construction of the new 34.5 kV line will also be delayed. The search process for other potential substation sites will begin during the summer of 2014 and extend as long as necessary to be deemed thorough,” the PUC filing reads. “Some planning for the line routing will continue this year, but final line planning cannot be done until the final substation site is known.”

According to the PUC filings, the eastern side of Mount Desert Island, including downtown Bar Harbor, is served by a single 34.5 kV line that feeds from the corner of Knox and Gilbert Farm roads in Town Hill to Eagle Lake Road. It connects to a substation on Edgewood Street downtown that is collocated in a building constructed in the late 1800s. That setup creates a possible single point of failure, meaning problems anywhere along the line, or repairs, can cause an outage to the entire area.

That, combined with growing demand for electricity here, led Emera several years ago to begin planning for a second transmission line from Town Hill to downtown. This line would feed a new substation, which is needed because “the substation infrastructure [on Edgewood Street] has reached end of life.”

In 2011, after much research, Emera (then Bangor Hydro) determined that the Woodbury Road site would be the best place to build a new substation. The site met many requirements, including close proximity to existing lines, adequate size and costs. Because of the way local zoning is written, the company was able to receive a permit without planning board review. This winter, they did that while also gaining all necessary state permits. However, after the lot was cleared, residents became aware of the plans, and protests have grown since, culminating in the recent PUC complaints.

“Although there are considerable benefits to the Woodbury Road site, Emera Maine recognizes that there are challenges to the site as well, including the close proximity to homes and its location in a neighborhood setting,” the filing reads. “Emera Maine strives to reach an optimal solution, but rarely does a perfect solution exist. Such is the case with the Woodbury Road site: it meets all of the essential electrical system and reliability criteria, but there are issues with respect to the preferred social criteria.”

Emera officials are not giving up the permits for the Acadia Substation. If, following the search process, a suitable alternative location is not found, they still hope to build the substation in that location, PUC filings state. However, if that event occurs, the company will significantly redesign the installation to better fit into the site.

Emera officials have promised a long-term, collaborative process with Bar Harbor residents both to determine an alternative location for a new substation and to consider running the new transmission lines somewhere other than the Crooked Road. The first meeting of this process is set to occur on Thursday, June 12, at 6 p.m. in the municipal building auditorium.

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Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]