It’s back to the drawing board for Central Maine Power and Maine Public Service Company, a subsidiary of Maine & Maritimes Corporation, partners on the proposed 345,000 volt transmission line project that would have connected northern Maine to the regional grid, following state regulators’ decision to dismiss the $625 million expansion project.
Staff photo/Kathy McCarty
MAINE PUBLIC SERVICE crews have been spotted around Presque Isle in recent weeks, performing various upgrades. This electrical distribution upgrade will complete a tie between the North Presque Isle Substation and the new State St. Substation. When complete, the new State St. Substation will operate at 12,470 volts, matching the other substations in the city, allowing for alternative switching of power and better reliability. Pictured working on lines along North St. last week are, from left: Scott Madore, T&D lead worker, and Bruce Ayotte, line apprentice.
The two entities, also known as the Maine Power Connection, are now looking at ways to revamp plans and get the project back on track.
The necessity for the expansion came about last year, following Aroostook Wind Energy LLC’s announcement it was interested in establishing a large-scale wind farm project in the county. AWE, a subsidiary of Texas-based Horizon Wind Energy, has since put that project on hold, based on economic and other issues.
In a letter to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, AWE officials indicated starting the project in 2010 as originally proposed is “no longer viable and that it is not possible to project a new date.”
It was recently discovered that a technical glitch in transmitting power created by such a large wind project could have a negative impact on locations to the south of the transmission line, since large amounts of electricity dumped on the grid all at once could black out portions of southern New England. AWE had proposed hundreds of wind turbines, with a total output of 800 megawatts.
Earlier this month, the MPUC granted a motion to dismiss AWE’s project based on unanticipated technical hurdles and other factors. In a January statement, officials with MPS and CMP requested that the MPUC “defer further action in the Maine Power Connection case for 90 days” while they considered various options for formulating the transmission line project.
“It’s difficult for us to talk about what AWE will or won’t do. We just know the economics for them to contribute to the transmission project were diminished (by the fluctuation in fuel prices over the last year),” said Brent Boyles, president and CEO of MAM. “What they could have done at $140 a barrel is much more than what they can do at $40.”
Boyles said the original filing was for an 800-megawatt project for AWE/Horizon to develop.
“The complexion changed so much, the commission said ‘Why don’t you go back.’ So we offered to go back and explore several alternatives,” said Boyles.
At the same time, the commission worked with colleagues around New England (to reach a solution to the noted glitch) but were “hampered by policy,” said Boyles.
“It’s very difficult for them (MPUC) to talk specifics when a case is open. The side benefit to dismissing the case is it frees them up to talk with colleagues and explore new avenues,” explained Boyles.
Boyles said MPS, CMP and developers continue to believe in and explore options with regard to the wind project.
“Officials with AWE have made public comments about AWE being interested in continuing developing in northern Maine. Economics have changed but they’re still interested,” said Boyles.
A lot may be determined by President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and what it entails as far as assistance for infrastructure and renewable energy projects, said Boyles.
“The stimulus package may factor in. We’ve expressed interest to state officials, should stimulus moneys become available for such development. We’re most interested in transmission line money. It will also depend on what form the money comes in, whether it’s grants, loans or some other form,” Boyles said.
Boyles said he’s looked at what the Obama Administration has said regarding renewable energies and that much of the development focuses on non-populated areas, such as areas the proposed transmission line would travel through.
“There’s a definite need for a transmission line,” in light of continuing development in the alternative energy market, especially in northern Maine, said Boyles.
“We’re still moving forward with a project of some sort. We’ll continue our efforts to connect northern Maine with the rest of New England,” said Boyles.
Boyles said officials will be meeting this week in Augusta to continue dialogue on the matter.
“We’ll be meeting with regulators Feb. 12 in Augusta. All utilities are going to meet on the 12th with the PUC. It’s a brainstorming thing and what’s Maine’s best pitch (for such projects). There’s different types of infrastructure that the stimulus money could be used for. It depends on the amount Maine might get,” said Boyles. “We’re approaching this at the state and federal level. We’re still very positive about our project.”
Officials will continue to work at it, believing improvements in the infrastructure will mean good things for all Mainers, said Boyles.
“It (transmission line) will be built. We’ll attempt to figure out a way to do it, without having a negative impact on consumers in northern Maine,” he said. “This development will have to benefit rate payers of northern Maine.”
Boyles said the point that’s often missed is the fact wind power generated in Aroostook is a commodity, much like the potatoes and trees that supply other industries, and energy produced here doesn’t all get consumed here.
“The point we miss a lot, we don’t eat all the potatoes we grow in Aroostook. We export those. Electricity is a commodity, even though we can’t touch it or feel it. If we can benefit from job creation and export of a commodity, then it should be done,” said Boyles.
Boyles said people misunderstand how wind-generated power from Mars Hill mountain is distributed.
“Mars Hill (power) goes on the Canadian grid but serves the electrical needs in that area of the state,” said Boyles.
“This is a project we’ll continue to work at. It’s a project we’re still very positive about,” said Boyles. “It hasn’t been cancelled, it’s just been delayed as we look at various alternatives.”
MPS, a subsidiary of Maine & Maritimes Corporation (AMEX:MAM), is a regulated electric transmission and distribution utility serving approximately 36,000 electricity customer accounts in northern Maine. MAM is also the parent company of MAM Utility Services Group, an unregulated wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary which focuses on such areas as transmission infrastructure to support wind generation, utility asset maintenance contracts and other utility-related services. Corporate headquarters are located in Presque Isle, and the corporate Web site is www.maineandmaritimes.com.
CMP, a subsidiary of Energy East Corporation (NYSE:EAS), a regulated electric transmission and distribution utility, operates more than 25,000 miles of power lines and other facilities that deliver electricity to 600,000 electricity customers in Maine. The corporate Web site is www.cmpco.com.