Prompted by state lawmakers, New Hampshire regulators are set to begin exploring ways to upgrade electric transmission infrastructure in the northern part of the state.
Representatives from ISO New England Inc., National Grid USA, Public Service Co. of New Hampshire and developers of proposed renewable energy projects will join staff of the Public Utilities Commission in Groveton, N.H., on Aug. 7 to discuss aspects of the area’s existing transmission system, the process for connecting new power plants, interconnection approaches considered in other parts of country and steps needed to change the current process.
According to Michael Harrington, the PUC’s regional policy adviser, the meeting is intended as a starting point to facilitate discussions among the various parties, as outlined in legislation signed by Gov. John Lynch in mid-July. The legislation, Senate Bill 140, calls for a review of transmission infrastructure in the northern part of the state and ways to streamline siting of renewable energy facilities and directs the PUC to file a report to lawmakers by Dec. 1.
In the case of New Hampshire, several potential wind and biomass projects could add several hundred megawatts to the system, Harrington said. Rather than upgrade transmission project by project, one upgrade to cover all of the potential projects might be a better approach, he said.
“That’s where it gets [to] the tricky part of who pays for what when and who is on the hook for the ultimate bill,” Harrington said. “That’s the major issue here.”
The issue is big and not unique to New England, he said, pointing to California and Colorado mechanisms to move renewable energy from its source to load centers. FERC in April approved California’s concept for a “location-constrained” mechanism to finance new transmission for renewables, while Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a bill that lets utilities start recovering financing costs of transmission lines during development and construction. The Colorado law will have the utilities identify high-potential wind energy development areas and aim to build transmission lines to those areas.
New Hampshire’s Coos County, in particular, has been targeted for renewable generation because closed paper mills left behind infrastructure capable of handling wood-burning power plants and a need for jobs.
According to ISO New England’s interconnection request queue, as of July 31, developers are considering in Coos County: wind projects of 100 MW and 145.5 MW, and three biomass projects, one with a summer capacity of about 56 MW and two with about 41 MW of summer capacity.
“It’s a serious issue in New Hampshire, and we’re trying to come up with a solution that works, and is fair to everybody, which is probably going to be really difficult,” Harrington said.
Another factor in the growing interest in renewable energy is that all six New England states have a renewable energy component for electricity. However, renewable energy requirements and production capability vary, Harrington said.
“How do we make those two things work together?” he asked. “How do we get the renewable power from places that want it to be built and can be sited down to the load centers that need it? And who’s going pay for it? That’s the question that’s not resolved at this time and that’s what we’re starting on.”
National Grid is a subsidiary of National Grid plc. PSNH is a subsidiary of Northeast Utilities.
By Kelly Harrington
6 August 2007
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