PUC to give a boost to renewable projects in northern Maine
State regulators have begun the process of collecting proposals for a high-voltage transmission line to serve as a conduit for renewable energy projects in Aroostook and Washington counties.
HALLOWELL — Despite criticism of the New England Clean Energy Connect project, state regulators have begun the process of collecting proposals for a high-voltage transmission line to serve as a conduit for renewable energy projects in northern Maine.
A state law required the Maine Public Utilities Commission to begin planning for a transmission capacity of at least 345 kilovolts to connect northern Maine renewable energy projects to the New England power grid.
The project aims to address one of the obstacles to renewable projects in rural Maine – access to the power grid.
It’s a similar to the proposed 145-mile transmission line that would be a conduit for Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid. But it would serve a different purpose as a conduit for Maine-based renewable energy projects.
State voters rebuked the New England Clean Energy Connect in November, and the permit was suspended by the Department of Environmental Protection. Work has halted for the time being.
But supporters are hopeful for a different outcome in northern Maine. Aroostook and parts of Washington County are currently disconnected from the New England grid, requiring electricity to be routed through Canada, said Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, of Allagash.
That has stymied development of wind and biomass projects that could produce lots of electricity.
“This has been the holy grail of clean-energy development in Maine for well over a decade, and this has been the first opportunity to really try and make that a reality,” said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.
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PPH: Maine won’t wait long for answers on clean energy, transmission lines
By The Editorial Board
The resounding victory last month for Question 1 raised questions about just how hard it would be to build the electricity transmission lines necessary to build a clean-energy future.
Maine won’t have to wait long to find out.
State regulators this week put out a call for bids to construct a major transmission line connecting far northern Maine to the New England grid, as mandated by a law passed by the Legislature last year.
The request from the Public Utilities Commission asks for proposals for large-scale wind and solar power projects and the development of a biomass power plant in addition to the construction of the new line.
The electricity from the power-generation part of the project would be enough for hundreds of thousands of homes, and open the way for more. The transmission line would send that power to the grid – where it could be used wherever the grid reaches.
Finally, northern Maine’s potential for producing clean energy could be realized, and an industry could be built around it. Construction of the new power generators would bring jobs, while a biomass plant would stabilize an important aspect of the forest products industry. Maintenance of the plants, and perhaps even manufacturing of items such as wind turbines, would keep the jobs there.
“This has been the holy grail of clean-energy development in Maine for well over a decade, and this has been the first opportunity to really try and make that a reality,” Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, told MainePublic.
It is an exciting opportunity to bring more renewable energy to the New England grid while creating jobs in an area of the state that needs them.
That’s also close to the same argument made by proponents of New England Clean Energy Connect – and we saw how that went Nov. 2, when a referendum stopping NECEC won with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
There are reasons to believe this transmission line will be seen differently, however. While no specific route has been chosen yet, the geography of northeastern Maine, and the infrastructure already in place, mean that the line is less likely than NECEC to go through sensitive areas.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, a major NECEC opponent, is on board with this project. And while the communities along the CMP corridor soured on NECEC, the northern Maine line has been under consideration for years and is widely seen as beneficial.
In testimony to the Legislature earlier this year, one Aroostook County commissioner called it an “unparalleled opportunity,” while the president and CEO of Aroostook Partnership, a business and higher education nonprofit, said, “People and businesses in Aroostook County have been hoping for exactly this kind of investment for decades.”....................
Through projects like a transmission line through northern Maine, our state can contribute more to the effort to reduce emissions by helping other states in New England reach their goals, all while creating jobs and tax revenue for our communities.
Who’s going to say no to that?
As one big energy corridor stalls, another moves forward in northern Maine
Maine Public | By Fred Bever
Published December 1, 2021 at 5:03 PM EST
As Central Maine Power's energy corridor continues to confront numerous legal and political challenges, there is movement on another major transmission line proposal.
This week, state regulators called for bids to construct a transmission line that would connect northern Maine to the New England electricity grid and encourage the development of renewable energy sources. Supporters say CMP's recent experience should not be seen as a death knell for other projects that will be needed to meet regional and national green energy goals.
The new northern Maine power line effort was mandated by the Legislature this year, and broadly speaking it's not that different from CMP's New England Clean Energy Connect, which grew out of its bid for an energy contract mandated by Massachusetts lawmakers.
Beset by controversy from the start, the CMP project was hammered at the polls a month ago by voters who approved a referendum that aims to kill it. Then last week the state also suspended its environmental permit.
"But now that that has happened, we need a way to get to our renewable energy goals," says Aroostook County Democrat Troy Jackson, who is president of the Maine Senate, and a chief sponsor of the law that could bring the new project to life.
He says Aroostook and parts of Washington county are disconnected from the New England grid, and electricity to or from the area must be routed through Canada.
That's inhibited the success of local biomass energy plants, he says, and the development of wind energy projects that potentially could produce massive amounts of non-polluting electricity — a product that's in high demand as the region and nation move to "decarbonize" the economy.
"And here is Aroostook County that's dying for economic development and has some of the greatest wind in the entire world, biomass and things like that we can't get the power out of Aroostook County viably, and here's an opportunity to get a line built and get some progress going in northern Maine," Jackson says.
The RFP issued by the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Monday is split into two parts: one calling for proposals for the transmission line itself, and one to procure large slugs of renewable energy from wind or solar projects, and from the development of a biomass generation plant.
The legislation calls for procuring at minimum a percentage of the state's overall electricity load that would amount to somewhere between 700 and 1100 megawatts, observers say — enough to provide electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes (or electric vehicles, for that matter) — with the potential of unlocking even larger amounts of the area's wind energy potential.
"This has been the holy grail of clean-energy development in Maine for well over a decade, and this has been the first opportunity to really try and make that a reality," says Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.
Payne says the energy producers in his sector have been anxious to get a foothold in northern Maine, and the proposed project could even lead some big wind turbine manufacturers to locate in the County too.
But, he says, bidders would do well to learn from CMP's experience, that it's important to develop close connections early on with individuals and businesses in potential host communities, to gauge their needs, and court — and maintain — their support.
"And that seems to be sort of the rub that occurred with the CMP line, was once they encountered resistance they said 'we're coming anyway, we've got this letter of support from 14 months ago from your town council.' And then individuals in the town said 'we don't care, we're going to flip that vote, we're going to have them undo that letter, and then we're not just not going to support your project, we're going to actively oppose it,'" Payne says.
Although there is no specific route chosen for an Aroostook transmission line yet, Jackson and other backers say its footprint would be less intrusive than the CMP project in western Maine, requiring less cutting through woodlands and avoiding high-profile recreation areas like the Kennebec River basin and the Appalachian Trail.
Pete Didisheim, the advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine — a leading foe of the CMP corridor project — says a northern Maine line might be more like a big transmission upgrade, called the Maine Power Reliability Project, or MPRP, that was completed about 10 years ago by none other than CMP.
"The connection between Aroostook County and the grid we think can be done in a way that co-locates and doesn't cut across significant forestlands. And I think it's much more likely to be the sort of discussion that occurred around the MPRP. That was 300 miles of transmission line, was built in Maine, with some small issues here and there but it got resolved," he says.
Still, some observers say that losing bidders for generating the electricity that would flow across the northern Maine project might try to undermine it, just as competitors of CMP's partner, Hydro Quebec, did by spending big money to challenge the corridor project in the courts and at the ballot box.
And one new wrinkle that developers and regulators will need to consider: under the law voters passed last month, construction of all "high-impact" transmission lines longer than 50 miles will require approval by a majority of the Legislature. And if they cross public lands, the bar rises to a vote of two-thirds in each chamber.
CMP did not respond to requests for comment.
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