While giant steps are being taken on the national stage to upgrade the nation’s electricity transmission system and migrate to renewable power, smaller but no less important projects are underway on the local and regional level to help complete the transformation.

Case in point: Eastern Maine.

Less than a year after the petition was filed, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved a settlement agreement in December 2009 to allow Bangor Hydro-electric (BHE) to construct and operate additional transmission capacity in Hancock and Washington Counties.

The Downeast Reliability Project will consist of one 42-mile, 115-kilovolt electric transmission line and a new substation between the communities of Ellsworth and Harrington. A new switching station will also be built near Epping. Upgrades to the existing line, which will share the same corridor as the new line, will also be made at the same time.

The project was proposed to help reduce the risk of power outages, to support economic growth, and to provide access to renewable power in the region. It is estimated to cost $67.9 million, with the bulk of the cost ($66.1 million) being shared regionally. Local ratepayers will only be saddled with about $1.8 million of the project’s costs.

BHE, a subsidiary of Emera Inc., is a public utility that serves about 117,000 customers in a roughly 5,000-square-mile territory. The company anticipates that the project will be completed by 2012.