Central Maine Power Company (CMP) would like to run a high voltage powerline through Maine’s undeveloped forest to deliver power from Quebec to Massachusetts along a new corridor. As we’ve seen from the history of California’s electricity provider, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), these lines can pose an extreme fire hazard, which is why I am apprehensive to trust CMP with this for-profit project.
Over the past four years, the world has watched as California has repeatedly been set ablaze by high voltage power lines owned by PG&E. The most recent powerline-caused wildfire in 2018, called “Camp Fire”, was the most deadly and destructive wildfire in the state’s history, killing 85 people and leveling the entire town of Paradise.
In 2017, the powerline-caused Northern California wildfires swept through wine country, killing more than 30 people and destroying homes and people’s livelihoods. In 2016, the powerline-caused “ Ghost Ship Fire” in Oakland killed 36 people and in 2015, the powerline-caused “ Butte Fire” killed two people and destroyed hundreds of structures when the line came into contact with a tree.
And these weren’t the only fires caused by this company’s high voltage lines. Over a span of six years, an astounding 1,500 California fires were caused by PG&E. As a result, the company has filed for bankruptcy, and has agreed to pay $ 13.5 billion to their victims (including customers).
PG&E’s solution to prevent further fires from sparking was to shut down parts of the grid, creating a blackout for weeks on end. I don’t think CMP’s Massachusetts’ customers would be pleased with this solution, and while Maine’s climate and weather patterns differ from California’s generally, we have had fairly regular periods of drought over the years that have led to wildfires in various parts of the state.
Obviously, these lines are dangerous which is why last year, the Maine State Federation of Firefighters voiced their concerns to Gov. Janet Mills in a sobering letter that outlined just how unprepared our state would be if such wildfires were to ignite along CMP’s proposed corridor route.
Fast forward to today, Maine just experienced four powerline-caused fires over Memorial Day Weekend. In Mt. Vernon, Monson, Davis Township, and Dixmont, as CMP’s corridor project gained one more permit necessary for construction.
CMP likes to hang their hat on the fact that Massachusetts ratepayers would fully fund their corridor project, but it’s important to note that in the case of a wildfire, it’s the people of Maine that would be responsible for extinguishing the flames. It’s our wilderness, resources and property that will bear all of the risk so CMP and their foreign shareholders can make $1 billion.
As a retired first responder, I know just how quickly things can get out of hand. In the case of a fire, quick response time is key. That’s why it’s particularly concerning that for the first 70 miles of CMP’s for-profit corridor, there is no organized emergency response capacity, and the next 30 miles is serviced by only three volunteer fire departments with limited manpower to respond to a crisis.
Furthermore, in conversations with neighboring communities mandated by the Public Utilities Commission, CMP has said they do not plan to provide the state, or these departments, with the off-road equipment necessary to respond to a fire caused by their high voltage lines.
Like CMP, PG&E has been criticized for “ prioritizing profits over safety measures,” and for putting off routine maintenance like tree trimming and power-upgrades that would make their product safer and more dependable.
And like PG&E, CMP is distrusted by the very customers who they serve, but ironically, CMP is the only company that is disliked more than PG&E. Do people really trust CMP to suddenly change their ways once they have this new line to service Massachusetts, or do they think service to their existing Maine customers will suffer even more?
There’s a reason most states opt to bury high voltage lines like the one CMP has proposed. It is the safest, least damaging way to deliver power. That’s why the previous but failed proposal to route this same electricity through Vermont to Massachusetts was set to be buried underground, and faced little public opposition.
Let’s not let CMP cut corners to keep the cost down for Massachusetts at the expense of our first responders. To use Dr. Nirav Shah’s COVID-19 euphemism, if a wildfire were to spark along the CMP Corridor, we would be left with an umbrella in a hurricane.
Please join me in voting to end this destructive project once and for all this November.
Scott Cyrway, a retired Kennebec County Sheriff, represents District 16 in the Maine Senate. He also serves on the Fire Protection Services Commission.