A goal to make Maine a regional leader in wind power by developing 2,000 megawatts of capacity by 2015 may require more than just regulatory changes.
Gov. John E. Baldacci’s task force on wind power submitted a final report this week, calling for more than half the state to be identified as expedited permitting areas where a streamlined regulatory process would be used for wind power projects.
If the goals of the report are met, between 1,000 and 2,000 wind turbines, each 400 feet tall, could be placed on Maine’s landscape by 2020, enough to generate 3,000 megawatts of clean energy.
On paper at least, that is more than enough to meet all of the state’s current peak power needs – wind power installations typically operate near peak capacity only a fraction of the time – but sending more power out of the state could require substantial new transmission capacity.
A federal study released in 2004 cited constrained transmission capacity between Maine and the rest of New England that resulted in generation capacity in Maine being locked in.
Maine has more wind power potential than all of the other New England states put together, according to the task force report.
But while that resource could support new generation on sites ranging from potato fields in Aroostook County to offshore islands, getting that power from the places where there is wind to the market may require significant changes to transmission capacity both in Maine and beyond.
Alec Giffen, director of the Maine Forest Service and chairman of the task force, said addressing transmission is an important issue, but that meeting the cost of that new capacity may involve other states.
Adding clean power in Maine would help other states meet goals for the reduction of greenhouse gases, said Giffen.
If Maine does more than its share to help the region meet those goals, Giffen said other states could contribute in other ways, such as helping to build new transmission lines.
The task force calls for creating new wind power while protecting the state’s quality of place and natural resources and developing tangible benefits to Maine people.
Expanding the use of wind power in the state could result in lower power rates, according to the report.
Other potential economic benefits of 3,000 megawatts of capacity include more than $25 million in annual property payments, lease payments for farmland used for wind power, and construction jobs.
Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine and a member of the task force, said the goals are realistic and the benefits would be tangible.
“We do want to make sure that as this new clean energy sector is established in Maine, we are realizing not just environmental benefits but economic benefits,” said Didisheim.
Once a wind power installation is in place, it is immune to the swings of fossil fuels, said Didisheim.
He said most of the area that would be part of the expedited permitting areas are organized towns or land that is on the fringe of Maine’s unorganized territories.
The vast majority of the unorganized territories was not included as part of the expedited permitting areas, said Didisheim.
New wind power technology is also allowing the placement of turbines in locations where there are slower average wind speeds, which means developers will be able to site more turbines on rolling hills and farmland where there is less potential for conflict, said Didisheim.
One of the largest wind power projects on the drawing board in the state, Aroostook County Wind, proposes up to 500 megawatts of capacity in several northern Maine farming communities.
Because northern Maine is not linked to the New England energy grid, that project would also require new transmission capacity to carry the power to the New England grid.
Mitch Tannenbaum, deputy general counsel for the Maine Public Utilities Commission, said transmission capacity is something that will have to be addressed as 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of generation capacity is added.
But while some sort of transmission system upgrades will probably be needed, what kind of upgrades, where, and how much they will cost is unknown.
Where new capacity is added will also be a factor in determining where transmission lines are needed.
If power can’t get out of the state to markets in southern New England, he said developers will be less likely to site projects in Maine.
As more generation capacity is added, many factors will come into play, including the reliability of the system, the interests of Maine rate payers and the interests of rate payers throughout New England.
The important thing is that as new generation and new transmission capacity is added, everybody should benefit, said Tannenbaum.
By Alan Crowell
16 February 2008
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