Mainers appeared in Augusta on Wednesday to defend their right to private property during a public hearing on a bill which would prevent the state from forcibly seizing private land for the construction of a high-power transmission line.
The controversial transmission line, which is without a developer following LS Power’s decision to pull out of the project, would theoretically connect Massachusetts renewable energy customers to a proposed wind farm 92 percent owned by foreign investors.
The project has previous had the backing of a bipartisan group of Aroostook County politicians, including Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), Senate Republican Leader Trey Stewart (R-Aroostook), and Rep. Austin Theriault (R-Fort Kent), who is also running for Congress in Maine’s Second Congressional District.
Although the transmission line and related wind farm were original billed as “green” energy projects that would bring jobs to the County, momentum has been building against the transmission line as the prospect of developers using eminent domain has become more likely.
“Last summer when my husband and I learned that we might lose a portion of our home to a high-voltage transmission line, we were devastated, our hearts were shattered, and our sanctuary was under threat,” said Tanya Blanchard, a Maine landowner and advocate against using eminent domain for the transmission line.
Sen. Chip Curry (D-Waldo) presented his bill, LD 2087, at a public hearing of the Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology (EUT).
Sen. Curry’s bill would entirely prohibit the use of eminent domain in the construction of the controversial Aroostook Renewable Gateway, the name that’s been given to the transmission line that would connect New England’s power grid to the proposed King Pine Wind Farm.
The gateway is an energy transmission line which would cut a 160-mile-long, 150-foot-wide swath through northern and central Maine in the name of providing customers, most of whom would be based in New Hampshire, with electricity that would qualify for Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Due to the size of the transmission line, eminent domain would almost certainly need be used to seize land necessary for the project from rural landowners.
Sen. Curry, a Democrat who supports Maine’s renewable energy efforts, was nonetheless opposed to the use of eminent domain to build the transmission line. Although his bill simply stops the use of eminent domain, he suggested that the EUT consider alternatives such the use of existing corridors, or the use of public other than private land.
Blanchard, along with one of her sons, sat through a four-hour hearing on another topic in order to be able to testify in defense of the family land that they love.
One landowner, Brooke Delorme of Palermo, who’s land will not be directly impacted by the transmission line, spoke out to defend the rights of those who were affected, and to point out the impact on the nearly 3,000 parcels of land adjacent to those affected.
“If a property were impacted by the view of a transmission line it could have a 63 percent property value diminution,” said Delorme, citing information from New Hampshire Public Radio.
Eric Rolfson, a Maple syrup producer in Northern Maine whose property, gained and cultivated over fifty years of work, stands in the proposed path of the line, also spoke in favor of the bill.
Rolfson highlighted the fact that, despite the significant impact on property value, the proposed use of eminent domain would only compensate people for the land actually used, with no provisions made for the loss of value for the rest of the property.
In total, eight Maine landowners spoke up in favor of Curry’s bill to defend their property rights.
Only one speaker, Jay Nutting, came to oppose the protections.
Nutting is a professional lobbyist from Maine Street Solutions, who spoke on behalf of the Maine Renewable Energy association.
The Maine Wire is the only outlet in the state that has reported on the foreign financial interests behind the Aroostook Renewable Gateway.
In September, the Maine Wire reported that the King Pine Wind Farm, a project of the Boston-based Longroad Energy firm, was owned 92 percent by foreign interests, including the sovereign wealth fund of New Zealand, a large New Zealand-based asset fund, and a German asset fund.
The NZ Super Fund – a.k.a. the New Zealand Superannuation Fund — reported owning 40 percent of Longroad Energy in 2021 and 2022, according to their annual report.
The $34.23 billion fund, which is operated by the New Zealand government for the benefit of the nation’s pension system, reports that Longroad is one of its “larger” green energy investments.
Rounding out the firm’s foreign investors is MEAG, a €324 billion German asset management company.
MEAG purchased a 12 percent stake in Longroad in August 2022 for a reported $300 million.
According to NZ Super Fund’s public reporting, NZSF US Renewables, a subsidiary of the sovereign wealth fund, has provided Longroad energy with a letter of credit agreeing to backstop the firm’s financial commitments.
The King Pine Wind project would also be Maine’s largest-ever wind project featuring some of the largest turbines ever erected in Maine, easily making them the tallest structures in the state.
Five people spoke in the “neither for nor against” category, most of whom were lobbyists for environmental groups such as the Conservation Law Foundation, who opposed entirely prohibiting eminent domain, but who supported some protections for landowners.