Ambitious plans to build wind farms in northern and western Maine representing billions of dollars of investment were dealt a blow on Tuesday, after a coalition of utilities and state agencies in southern New England failed to select any Maine-based wind or transmission projects to meet the region’s clean-energy goals.
Two large-scale solar electric projects, proposed by Ranger Solar of Yarmouth and slated for Sanford and Farmington, did make the initial cut, however. The two projects would by far be the largest solar installations in Maine, each with a capacity of at least 50 megawatts.
The projects were among the 24 bids received by New England Clean Energy RFP, an offshoot of a consortium of agencies and electric utilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island that issued a request for proposals for energy projects last November to help them meet their clean-energy goals and fight climate change. They were initially looking for roughly 600 megawatts of new, renewable capacity to replace the output of the Pilgrim nuclear plant set to close in 2019 that serves 500,000 homes.
News that all the wind and transmission projects in Maine weren’t selected was met with a variety of reactions.
“Maine has always been open for energy infrastructure and we’re disappointed there won’t be an electric transmission project as part of this RFP,” said Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office in Maine.
Woodcock said he didn’t know the details of why the projects were rejected. But he said that transmission costs are rising in the region and upgrades would be paid by electric customers in the three states.
“To get large-scale renewables built in Maine will require a large amount of transmission to be built,” he said. “And that comes with price tag.”
Residents fighting the expansion of wind farms in Maine were elated, however.
Richard McDonald, president of Saving Maine, said it gave the state the opportunity to pause and reconsider the wisdom of wind power and its impact on tourism.
“Hopefully,” he said, “the results from … southern New England will allow us to reflect what this has meant to the state and stop the destruction of our ridge lines and mountaintops. There has to be a better solution to meeting southern New England’s renewable needs than turning Maine’s pristine landscape into wind plantations.”
Besides Ranger Solar, the other preliminary winners were wind farms in Antrim, New Hampshire, and Chautauqua County, New York, solar projects in southern New England, and an offshore wind farm off Rhode Island. Together they will have a capacity of 460 megawatts, roughly two-thirds the output of the Pilgrim nuclear plant. Of the 10 projects that involved Maine, seven were wind power projects, but included in the mix were large-scale solar arrays, battery storage and transmission projects.
In naming the winners, New England Clean Energy RFP noted that final awards hinge on the developers successfully negotiating contracts with utilities and receiving all necessary regulatory approvals. Final project selection will be made when those conditions have taken place.
Nailing down power-purchase contracts with utilities is essential for major energy projects like these, because developers can’t attract investment money without assurance of revenue.
The biggest impact from the RFP decision was for plans in northern Maine.
A proposed transmission line to be built jointly by Central Maine Power and Emera Maine and called the Maine Renewable Energy Interconnect would have linked three big wind farms in Aroostook County to the regional grid. Right now, there isn’t a major line that connects The County with the rest of New England.
The wind farms included a 600-megawatt wind farm called King Pine. Another involved two projects called Number Nine Wind Farm and Horse Mountain, which would add up to 650 megawatts. Together, they would have been the biggest wind farms in New England, serving hundreds of thousands of homes.
Mike Garland, chief executive officer at Pattern Development, which had the development rights for King Pine, said he was confident the wind farm will be built in time.
“We acquired the development rights to this project from SunEdison, not because we expected to win the RFP bid, but because we see King Pine Wind as an excellent asset in a great location,” he said. “Our expertise lies in developing projects, and we believe King Pine will be a unique asset in the Northeast that will have plenty of opportunities for selling its power.” A representative for EDP Renewables, which is working on Number Nine and Horse Mountain, remained optimistic.
“Although Number Nine wasn’t selected for the NE RFP, the project is still one of the best, most mature clean energy projects in New England,” said Katie Chapman, EDP’s project manager for the Number Nine Wind Farm. “We believe that the project is more competitive than ever and we will continue to pursue a power purchase agreement.”
John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP, also expressed the opinion both projects will be built eventually. And when they are, there will have to be a network of transmission lines to bring that power to the grid.
“Those wind projects need a solution to get out,” he said. “This would have been it. We continue to believe those are great resources, and at some point there will be (a) viable way of getting that line built.”
In addition to the northern Maine proposal, a second CMP project connecting wind farms in western Maine, called the Maine Clean Energy Connection, also was rejected. It would have served Somerset Wind, near Moosehead Lake, and two wind farms near Eustis proposed by NextEra Energy.
Projects that didn’t win already were looking ahead to a second change, and an even bigger RFP process.
In a conference call on Tuesday, Bob Kump, the chief executive for networks at CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, expressed his view that the two transmission projects would be well positioned for another opportunity next spring. Under a landmark bill passed in Massachusetts, the state will be seeking bids for roughly 1,200 megawatts of hydropower, onshore wind and solar, as well as an unprecedented request for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind, the largest commitment by any state.
The process of evaluating the bids for New England Clean Energy RFP has been highly secretive.
Public versions of the bids were released in February. An evaluation team that included consultants and roughly three-dozen staffers from Eversource Energy, National Grid, Unitil and United Illuminating Co. was scheduled to make its selection by late July. That date was moved back to October, culminating in Tuesday’s announcement.