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Maine utilities look to beef up power grid  

Two utilities on Tuesday proposed $1.9 billion worth of electric infrastructure improvements to ensure reliability of the existing power grid as well as to connect northern Maine to the New England power grid for the first time.

Central Maine Power is proposing to spend $1.4 billion to build a new 345,000-volt transmission line from Orrington to Newington, N.H., with a goal of upgrading and improving the state’s grid, which has seen no improvements since 1971, said Sara Burns, CMP president and CEO.

Also, CMP and Maine Public Service Co. are partnering on another 345,000-volt line extending from central Maine to northern Aroostook County at a cost of $400 million to $500 million.

The latter project would accommodate existing and proposed northern Maine wind power projects, boosting supply and creating competition while connecting the region to the New England power grid.

Central Maine Power and Maine Public Service Co. on Tuesday filed two petitions with the Maine Public Utilities Commission seeking approval for the projects, which together represent the largest electric infrastructure improvement in the state’s history in terms of cost.

“Maine is at an important crossroads. Energy costs are skyrocketing. The electric grid that has served Maine reliably and well since 1971 is aging while the demand for electrical service has doubled,” Burns said during a news conference at the State House in Augusta.

A study has indicated that the existing power grid serving CMP customers will no longer operate reliably beyond 2012 without the improvements, Burns said.

Meanwhile, residents of northern Maine have not enjoyed the potential fruits of electric deregulation because Maine Public Service Co. is not connected to the rest of the New England power grid. Aroostook County is actually connected to the grid in neighboring New Brunswick.

By connecting to the New England grid, officials hope to increase competition in the Maine Public Service area, where customers were walloped by a 45 percent increase in January 2007 because there was only one bid from a supplier for the standard offer paid by most consumers.

At the same time, the improvements would accommodate 800 megawatts of power from proposed wind turbine projects in northern Maine, while opening the door to more electricity flowing from Canadian hydroelectric and nuclear power projects down the road.

As members of ISO-New England, Maine ratepayers will be responsible for only about 8 percent of the overall cost of the projects, Burns said.

The project proposals, unveiled Tuesday in Augusta, are playing out at a time when the Maine Public Utilities Commission is being asked to determine whether it’s in the best interest of Maine ratepayers to stay in ISO New England or pull out of the regional power grid altogether.

A report by the MPUC already concluded that Maine ratepayers don’t get enough in return for participating in the regional power grid and that there are “no insurmountable legal, economic or technical barriers” to leaving it.

But the infrastructure improvement proposals would face funding problems without ISO-New England assistance, and funding from ISO-New England is not a sure thing even if Maine chooses to stay in the regional power grid, said Richard Davies, Maine’s public advocate.

The many factors at play complicate the playing field, but it’s clear that something needs to done to prepare for wind power projects, boost competition and maintain the reliability of the power grid, Davies said from his office in Augusta.

“It’s somewhat akin to playing three-dimensional chess while blindfolded,” Davies said. “We don’t have much choice but to go forward based on the information we have now, and figure out a way to evolve if something new comes along.”

By David Sharp
Associated Press Writer

sunjournal.com

2 July 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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