A new, 145-mile electrical transmission line linking the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant in New Brunswick and a Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. substation in Orrington could help spark expansion of the cross-border energy partnership between Maine and Atlantic Canada.
“Without this new line, discussion of any new cross-border energy partnership would not be possible,” Kurt Adams, chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC), told The Ellsworth American.
New Brunswick Power and Canadian-owned Bangor Hydro recently threw the switch on the $210.5 million project after six years of planning and construction.
(Note: Given the relative parity between the value of Canadian and U.S. dollars, no distinction between the two currencies is made in characterizing this cross-border project’s costs.)
As the second cross-border transmission corridor, the new line was engineered to increase New Brunswick’s energy export capacity by 48 percent and its energy import capacity by 400 percent.
Adams has been meeting with his counterpart in New Brunswick, Energy Minister Jack Keir and his staff, to explore an expansion of the Maine-Maritime Canada energy partnership.
Northern Maine is already linked to the Canadian Maritimes transmission grid. The 3,500 customers of the Maine Public Service Co. and three, smaller consumer-owned utilities – Houlton Water Co., Van Buren Light and Power District, and Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative – are now connected to the rest of Maine and the New England power grid only by transmission lines that run through New Brunswick.
Specifically, Adams and Keir are hoping to devise a win-win strategy that might reduce the high cost of electricity in Maine by increasing importation of less-expensive electricity generated in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
“This new transmission line is essential for any future cross-border exchanges,” Adams said. “Now, in aggregate, Maine has as good an interconnection with Canada as we do with the Northeast.”
The cost of electricity in Maine is among the highest in the nation given a heavy reliance upon turbines fueled with oil and natural gas. The electricity Bangor Hydro delivers is purchased through the MPUC on a federally regulated, auctioned-based system linked to the New England power grid.
Bangor Hydro spent $144 million on construction of its 85-mile segment of the new transmission line, which crosses the Canadian border at the St. Croix River near Baileyville. That translates to about $1.7 million a mile. New Brunswick Power spent $66.5 million constructing its 60-mile segment, or $1.1 million a mile.
Contributing to the higher per-mile cost in Maine were extensive expansion of Bangor Hydro’s Orrington substation and other required technology.
“The U.S. part of the line follows a natural gas pipeline,” said Gerry Chasse, Bangor Hydro’s manager for the project. “Impacts to that gas pipeline due to the effects of the operation of a parallel electric power line needed to be mitigated. The solution was to bury a zinc ribbon for 70 miles above the natural gas pipeline, connect it to the pipeline in about 300 locations and install protective devices in those 300 locations.”
Chasse said Bangor Hydro’s new Northeast Reliability Interconnect (NRI) corridor is expected to affect reliability, efficiency and economics.
“The first [corridor] was the only connection the Maritime Provinces had with a larger power system,” he said. “Bangor Hydro’s service territory is connected between the two power systems and was at risk when one of the aging lines to the north or south is out of service. The NRI provides some redundancy to reduce this risk by bringing a second line into the Bangor system from the north.”
In terms of economics, Chasse said, the NRI will increase import/export capacity and encourage more cross-border commerce.
“Because the Maritimes’ and New England’s peak power usage periods are at opposite times of the year, with the Maritimes being a winter-peaking system due to the prevalence of electric heat and New England being summer-peaking, surplus capacity in each region during those ‘off-peak’ periods can be shared, providing for economic savings in energy costs.”
The $144 million cost of the U.S. segment of the NRI project will be spread among consumers within the six states served by the New England power grid.
Adams said Maine consumers would pay about 8 percent of the project’s costs, or just over $11.5 million.
Written by Tom Walsh
9 January 2008
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