At a confidential meeting today, parties including the staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission and Central Maine Power Co. will seek ways to settle CMP's landmark request for a $1.4 billion upgrade of its transmission system.

But two prominent parties in the case say the settlement attempt – initiated at CMP's urging – reflects political pressure by the utility's parent company and threatens to short-circuit a legal process that's meant to test whether the project is necessary in its proposed form.

They also say that Gov. John Baldacci's wind power trade mission to Europe last week, and statements the governor made during the trip, send a message that Maine's energy future depends heavily on the approval of the transmission line, which would directly benefit Iberdrola, the Spanish owner of CMP's parent company, Energy East.

"My concern is that the vast amount of money at stake has resulted in Iberdrola and Energy East putting a great deal of pressure on the governor and his energy staff," said Anthony Buxton, a lawyer representing paper mills and other businesses. "I'm concerned the PUC staff is trying to drive a settlement with CMP, without the opportunity of full hearings under oath."

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