In Maine, a state working hard to bounce back from the recession, the Maine Power Reliability Program (MPRP) is winning praise from everyone from the governor to small-business owners. The US$1.4 billion transmission project will employ an average of 2,100 people yearly during the five-year life of the build and is currently the largest construction project in the state. When completed, the MPRP will provide a stronger, smarter transmission grid for Maine, a much-needed stimulus to the economy, and greater access to diverse and renewable energy sources.

In May 2010, the project won approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and in June 2010, it was issued a certificate of public convenience and necessity. Both crucial orders certified the MPRP as the most economic and environmentally sound means of ensuring the power grid in Maine remains reliable and meets federally mandated standards. It will have a dramatic impact on energy reliability over the long term and on Maine's economic vitality in the intermediate term.

The project will include 437.5 miles (704 km) of new and rebuilt 345-kV and 115-kV transmission lines, five new substations, six major upgrades to existing substations and four autotransformers. In addition, dozens of other existing substations will need minor upgrades and improvements throughout the system. The massive project will encompass 13 of the 16 counties in Maine and is projected to add $289 million annually to Maine's gross domestic product over the next five years.

A Mega-Scale Transmission Project

Central Maine Power launched the MPRP as it became increasingly apparent significant investment was needed if Maine's power-delivery system was to meet the high reliability standards consumers and businesses have come to expect. The current system was designed and built in the 1960s. Though it had been highly reliable over the ensuing decades, it had not evolved to keep pace with the customers' energy needs or to accommodate the addition of new renewable sources of power generation.

The MPRP kicked off in early 2007 with a study to project the region's future needs for electricity service. The first phase of the study, completed in 2009, found that the system would not meet reliability standards as early as 2012 without significant changes in demand patterns, transmission capacity or new supply. The study served as a guideline for a range of investments and recommendations to encourage alternatives to transmission, such as new generation, or programs to manage the growth in peak electricity demand.

Central Maine Power prepared its plan in conjunction with neighboring utilities in Maine and New Hampshire with oversight by ISO-New England, the organization responsible for managing electricity supply and transmission for the New England states. The study examined all alternatives to building new transmission. But after thorough evaluation, construction of new transmission was proven to be the best alternative.

The centerpiece of Central Maine Power's plan was the MPRP. The backbone of the enhanced system is a new 345-kV transmission line from Orrington, Maine, located 15 miles (24 km) south of Bangor, to Eliot, Maine, on the New Hampshire border, nearly 200 miles (322 km) away. The line will follow existing transmission corridors through roughly 75 Maine towns. Nearly the entirely route (92%) is co-located within rights-of-way already owned by Central Maine Power.

Program Manager and Partner

In January 2009, Central Maine Power selected Burns & McDonnell to serve as program manager for the MPRP. With many years experience managing mega-scale transmission projects in the Northeast, including the recently completed Middletown-Norwalk project for Connecticut Light & Power and its corporate parent, Northeast Utilities, Burns & McDonnell immediately began building a team of experienced T&D professionals. Many of the team members had worked on the Middletown-Norwalk project and immediately transferred to Maine from Connecticut. Many other professionals with transmission engineering and construction experience were recruited. Currently, only three Central Maine Power staff members are dedicated to the project full time.

Just after being awarded the contract, Burns & McDonnell began working with Central Maine Power engineers, planners and system operators to develop detailed engineering specifications for all phases of the project, including substations, transmission lines and construction sequence plans. Much of the MPRP will be built using Central Maine Power's preferred standard-construction, which consists of wood H-frame 345-kV structures and wood 115-kV monopoles. The plan calls for approximately 500 planned transmission outages over the four-year construction schedule.

The MPRP is a large program comprised of numerous transmission line and substation projects that will involve many companies and staff throughout the engineering, construction and commissioning phases of work. Effectively managing the design, technical and financial information of the program can present many challenges.

To meet these challenges, Burns & McDonnell has developed integrated asset management and cost accounting solutions that allow critical design and cost information to be cataloged, validated and distributed to all stakeholders of the program. The Web-based applications provide a single point of access to users located throughout the country. Users input and maintain project information to ensure the project team has the right information at the right time. A key requirement of the applications is the export of financial and technical data to the client's SAP accounting system and corporate databases immediately following the commissioning of each project within the program.

Much of the engineering design occurred concurrently with the permitting process to accommodate an aggressive construction schedule. Burns & McDonnell's experience in managing the myriad unanticipated problems has proven to be helpful in the MPRP.

OneTouchPM, an information systems solution designed by Burns & McDonnell that integrates geographical mapping with critical project design and construction information, has been an especially critical tool. Used as project management software, OneTouchPM creates a 3-D virtual model of the project, allowing remote users to access information in near real time with little delay. The data collaboration tool provides information on environmental issues, permitting, community relations, design specifications, construction status and more.

Project Features and Challenges

Central Maine Power went through a rigorous process to acquire the certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Maine Public Utilities Commission as well as permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, permitting of the project continues to be an important task since Maine, as a “home-rule” state, allows local jurisdictional approval for the project. This rule resulted in an extensive local permitting effort to obtain individual approvals from the 75 municipalities in the project area.

Obtaining approvals from federal and state regulatory authorities was perhaps the most technically challenging permitting process ever experienced in the state. To meet the standards of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and to ensure the protection of Maine's pristine beauty, numerous facets had to be considered in the permitting, planning and construction phases of the project.

The rolling hills, forests, plains and shores of Maine have posed environmental and regulatory challenges on a nearly unprecedented scale. In one community alone, environmental, historical and engineering considerations could include endangered New England cottontail rabbits, bald eagle nesting zones, significant vernal pools and amphibian breeding grounds, salmon streams, and pre- and post-contact archeological protection sites.

As a part of the MPRP, Central Maine Power contributed more than 4,600 acres (1,862 hectares) of land and $1.5 million in additional stewardship funding to the state as mitigation and compensation for land required by the MPRP. It was one of the largest gifts of its kind in Maine's history.

Perhaps the most important feature of the MPRP is the presence of more than 3,200 neighbors and businesses abutting the transmission corridors and substations. More than 700 parcels of property were purchased to expand existing transmission corridors. Not surprisingly, one of the main challenges has been, and continues to be, keeping neighbors informed of the work involved in the process and understanding the need for the improvements under way.

One of the greatest challenges faced after the awarding of the certificate for public convenience and necessity by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in June 2010 was the formation of the Office of the Ombudsman, a third-party overseer of Central Maine Power's interactions with the abutters throughout the construction process.

Economic Impact

Constructing a $1.4 billion project during even the best times would be considered a boon for any community. During the current economic downturn, the MPRP has proven to be a welcome and somewhat unexpected stimulus plan in a state still reeling from high unemployment, home foreclosures and business bankruptcies.

It is estimated that more than 2,100 direct and indirect jobs will be supported through the five-year build of the MPRP, with a peak of 3,500 in 2012 and 2013. Current projects call for more than $242 million in total salaries and wages, making the MPRP one of the state's largest employers over the half decade of construction. Work will take place in 75 communities from the New Hampshire border to the geographic center of the state, providing $25 million a year in new tax revenues to communities large and small.

Communities such as Benton, with fewer than 2,000 residents, will not only reap the benefits of a more reliable transmission system, but of additional tax dollars as well. The construction of the Albion Road substation, Central Maine Power's second-largest substation upon completion, will bring $56 million of taxable assets to the community, equating to hundreds of thousands of new tax dollars for the community.

The cycle of construction work in Benton and dozens of other small communities will cause an economic ripple effect stretching far beyond the direct investment of project dollars. Hundreds of new workers seeking everything from morning coffee, diesel fuel or a bite to eat have flooded community stores, providing local businesses with new customers and, in some cases, second chances to keep the doors open.

In Livermore Falls, for example, where a new 115-kV transmission line is being constructed, as well as improvements are being made to an existing substation, the new faces, primarily from Asplundh Tree Expert Co. crews and subcontractors, have been a boost for local shopkeepers like Donna Dube, owner of Donna's Country Kettle. Dube said that crews have been coming in for breakfast before the workday and many have come back for lunch. She has even rearranged her menu specials to accommodate the crews. “We appreciate the business, like the new faces, and the people have been nice to serve,” Dube said.

The impact of the MPRP, however, was most evident at the Business and Employment Expo, a joint idea of Central Maine Power and Burns & McDonnell. The intent of the expo was to bring the prime contractors together with potential suppliers and subcontractors as well as connecting job seekers with the potential employers. Since the beginning of the MPRP, the team had hosted a registration point on the program website for subcontractors, suppliers and private citizens to add their contact information, in the hopes they would be considered for work as a part of the MPRP.

What resulted was nearly 25 prime contractors offering information, applications and, in many cases, on-site interviews to more than 1,000 attendees at the free event in January 2011. Maine Gov. Paul LePage toured the event and expressed his thanks and appreciation to Central Maine Power and the MPRP team for providing Mainers with employment opportunities that had not existed in recent memory.

Outlook for Success

The MPRP is perhaps the most ambitious energy resource project in the history of Maine. It is certain to create a more prosperous economy in the near term while expanding the opportunity for alternative energy suppliers to gain access to the regional grid. The lessons learned during the next four years are sure to be a case study the entire T&D industry will learn from as other mega-scale transmission projects are planned throughout North America.


Doug Herling (Doug.Herling@CMPCo.com) is a vice president at Central Maine Power Co. and is presently the executive sponsor for utility's Maine Power Reliability Program. Herling began his career with the utility after graduating from the Maine Maritime Academy at Castine with a bachelor's degree in marine engineering. He has served Central Maine Power in both the field and as regional supervisor. For the past 14 years, he has been responsible for the utility's 650 field employees as vice president of field operations, where his responsibilities include day-to-day operations as well as storm and emergency restoration. He also has held the position of vice president of engineering and asset management.

Bill Allard (wallard@burnsmcd.com) serves as Burns & McDonnell program manager for the Maine Power Reliability Program, where he is responsible for the full scope of project activities. With more than 20 years of experience in the electric transmission industry as project manager, construction manager and maintenance manager, Allard has developed significant expertise in the construction of complex projects within the operational requirements and constraints of regional power grids.

Companies mentioned:

Asplundh Tree Expert Co. www.asplundh.com

Burns & McDonnell www.burnsmcd.com

Central Maine Power www.cmpco.com

Connecticut Light & Power www.cl-p.com

ISO-New England www.iso-ne.com

Maine Power Reliability Program www.mainepower.com