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Ill wind blows for Canal electric plant  

Market competition that Cape Wind would provide could drastically curtail operations at the Canal Generating Plant in Sandwich, according to state Rep. Matthew Patrick, D-Falmouth.

The wind farm, combined with efforts to reduce electricity demand at peak times, could bring the oil-burning plant to a near standstill, said Patrick, a supporter of Cape Wind.

“They literally would shut it off,” Patrick said. “It would dramatically reduce the amount of energy we would use on the Cape from fossil fuels.”

Such a scenario would result in less pollution from the plant and reduced costs for consumers, he said. Patrick included information about the Canal plant in his testimony to the Minerals Management Service during hearings on the Cape Wind project this week.

Under the current system in New England, the power plants with the lowest prices are the ones selected to supply power, explained Ellen Foley, spokeswoman for ISO New England, an independent, nonprofit company that regulates the electricity supply in the region.

New England is divided into eight pricing zones, in which power providers compete with each other, Foley said. Cape Cod is part of the southeastern Massachusetts territory.

The Canal plant – inefficient and largely fueled by high-priced oil – just can’t compete with natural gas, coal and nuclear plants, Patrick said.

Therefore, Patrick said, the plant now runs only at minimum capacity, in order to ensure the reliability of the electricity supply in southeastern Massachusetts.

“We don’t need the electricity that they’re generating now to supply our homes and businesses,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mirant, the company that owns the Canal plant, did not return phone calls yesterday.

Maintaining this minimal level of production costs $9 million a month, Patrick said. And, he added, as oil prices rise, so could the cost to consumers.

That money, Patrick said, could be better spent upgrading the area’s outdated transmission lines.

The presence of Cape Wind, whose 130 planned turbines are expected to generate an average of 170 megawatts, would reduce the need for the Canal plant to act as a stabilizing force, Patrick said.

Because Cape Wind would also have lower production costs, the company would have a consistent market advantage over Canal, sharply reducing the need for the plant to operate.

In addition, Patrick would like the region to implement something known as “peak load shedding.”

Under this system, the Cape’s major power customers would agree to reduce their electricity consumption during times of peak demand, easing the stress on the power supply.

Together, these measures would mean that Canal could shut off its system for all but a few days each year, Patrick said.

Patrick’s conclusions do not ring true with everyone, however.

Because wind is an inherently intermittent resource, traditional power plants are an important part of providing energy to any area, said Angela O’Connor, the president of the New England Power Generators Association, a regional trade group.

“You shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket,” O’Connor said. “You need a diverse portfolio.”

She also said that, in addition to electricity, a conventional power plant provides important technical resources that help balance the system.

Sen. Robert O’Leary, a Cape Wind opponent, says Patrick’s position on the Canal plant is “an enormous leap.”

“There’s just no cause and effect here,” O’Leary said. “There’s no way to make that conclusion.”

By Sarah Shemkus
Staff Writer

Cape Cod Times

14 March 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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