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Watching financial winds  

Construction could begin on the $270 million Kibby Wind Power project in August, assuming the economics fall into place, the developer said.

Half of the 44-turbine plan could be completed by the fall of 2009. The other half of the Franklin County project should be done in the summer of 2010, said Nick Di Domenico, of TransCanada, director of the Kibby project.

But while the development appears likely to move ahead, both TransCanada and state officials say wind power faces plenty of short-term challenges even as the longer term future remains bright.

Maine has by far the most wind power potential of any New England state – Gov. Baldacci’s Task Force on Wind Power has set a goal of 3,000 megawatts by 2020 – and is relatively close to growing markets for green energy in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Despite those factors, developers who want to site facilities in Maine face plenty of hurdles, including everything from a shortage of transmission lines to the high price of wind turbines.

Even as TransCanada nears the end of a long regulatory process, Di Domenico said his company is working hard to control costs to make sure the Kibby project is economically viable.

TransCanada received approval from the Land Use Regulation Commission in March to rezone land for the project. Additional permits should be received this summer, said Di Domenico.

Catherine Carroll, director of the Land Use Regulation Commission, said TransCanada’s application for the siting of the development is under review by state agencies and could go to the commission sometime in the next two months.

“Hopefully we can work along with their time frame,” said Carroll.

Regulatory changes enacted this year have streamlined the regulatory process for future wind power projects, but Di Domenico said developers face other challenges, including fluctuating currency rates.

Those hurdles make it difficult to say with certainty that the Kibby project will go forward, said Di Domenico, although he believes the pieces are falling into place.

“I personally remain hopeful that work will start in August and …. we will find a way to get (the project economics) where they need to be,” said Di Domenico.

While wind farms are immune to the volatile price of fossil fuels, they cost a lot to build and they have a limited life span. The turbines should last about 25 years if they are well maintained, he said.

The high cost of construction and the volatility of energy costs is what makes the long-term viability of a project a difficult thing to predict.

Longer term, Di Domenico said TransCanada is positive about the future of wind power in Maine and New England.

“Maine is well situated to meet the needs for renewable energy in New England,” said Di Domenico.

He said the Legislature’s enactment of a package of recommendations from Gov. Baldacci’s Task Force on Wind Power Development will also help.

Those recommendations created a more streamlined permitting process for wind power projects in most of the state and provide more certainty in the permitting process for sites in LURC jurisdiction, something Di Domenico said is a good thing.

The permitting process for the Kibby project took about two years, said Di Domenico. Under the streamlined process, he estimated it might require less than half as much time.

John Kerry, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, said the enactment of the wind power task force’s recommendations has made the permitting process much more predictable for developers.

Developing 3,000 megawatts of wind power in the state, however, will require improvements to both transmission capacity and technology.

“Our long-term plan is very positive. It is not going to be easy, but if you look at it over time, the issues of 2008 are not the same issues we will face in 2018 or 2030,” said Kerry.

While wind power now makes up a little over one percent of the state’s generation capacity, as it grows it will reduce the state’s dependence on increasingly expensive and volatile fossil fuel, Kerry said.

If Maine can lower the cost of electricity, it will benefit consumers and businesses, encouraging the growth of jobs, said Kerry.

The wind farms will also increase the tax base of the communities where they are built.

Those benefits make conserving energy and producing clean electricity great ways to invest in economic development, said Kerry.

Alan Crowell

Morning Sentinel

28 April 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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