Maine eyed for project that converts renewable electricity to storable gas

by Tux Turkel

"There are ways, according to Kurt Adams, president and chief executive at Summit Natural Gas, one of the state’s gas distribution companies."


Maine could be a prime location for a pilot project that converts surplus electricity from wind farms and other renewable generators into a gas that can be stored in underground pipelines.

Such a project would help solve a growing problem, a top gas company executive told lawmakers this month.

The transmission lines connecting Maine’s far-flung renewable generators to the regional electric grid sometimes are too weak to carry all their power. When that happens, grid operators order generators to reduce output or even stop running, to prevent overloading and jeopardizing reliable service. The practice is called curtailment.

At one substation in northern Maine, there’s a bottleneck that forced grid operators to curtail 75,000 megawatt hours of renewable power last year, according to a recent legislative presentation. That’s enough electricity to run 10,000 homes.

Upgrading the transmission system is very expensive. It could be better if there was some way to soak up the wasted energy potential, not just for a few hours in huge batteries, but for days or even months.

There are ways, according to Kurt Adams, president and chief executive at Summit Natural Gas, one of the state’s gas distribution companies.

Plants that demonstrate these technologies are running in Colorado, and in California, which already produces more solar power than its grid can handle. And in Europe, where electricity is more expensive, plants like this are starting to be built at commercial scale. Two Summit managers just returned from touring plants in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland to get a first-hand look at the power-to-gas process or P2G, as it’s often called.

“The conclusion they came to,” Adams said, “is that this technology is where solar was in 2005 or so. The cost is starting to come down, the technology is becoming commercial, and its role in the energy mix is becoming clearer.”


That’s where Maine could play a leadership role in the evolving development of power-to-gas, Adams told a special legislative committee studying ways to attract energy storage projects to Maine. He cited the Keene Road substation in Lincoln, where power from area wind farms, hydro-electric dams and biomass plants converges on its way south. Congestion there forces ISO-New England, the grid operator, to curtail 75,000 megawatt hours a year.

This situation will worsen and will force curtailments at other choke points in Maine and southern New England, Adams said. That’s because policies in Maine and other states to fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions are encouraging developers to bring on big slugs of solar energy in the 2020s.

One evolving solution is to store excess generation in giant, lithium-ion battery banks. Maine’s Commission to Study the Economic, Environmental and Energy Benefits of Energy Storage has been learning about existing projects and policies in other states that create incentives for developers. On Dec. 2, it plans to finalize its recommendations for the full Legislature to consider next year.

Asked if Summit is positioning itself to develop a project in Maine, Adams said it’s too soon to say. Summit’s primary motivation, he said, is to make the Legislature aware of P2G options and to lobby for policies that level the playing field with battery storage, as a way to attract private investors.

P2G is getting attention because today’s grid-scale battery banks can only absorb enough electricity for a few hours of discharge. For now, their chief roles seem to be in balancing output on the grid and providing bursts of power during periods of peak demand.

That’s why Summit is highlighting the potential for a pilot P2G plant near the substation in Lincoln. From there, gas could be injected into the nearby Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline system. By raising and lowering pressure on the system, pipeline operators could make room for the gas and keep it at the ready until demand is high.

“What power-to-gas does,” Adams said, “is allows you to store the energy indefinitely.”

To do this, power-to-gas technology uses surplus renewable electricity to create hydrogen and natural gas, or methane.

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PAC to argue for bringing Canadian hydropower to New England

November 30, 2019 8:57 am

PORTLAND, Maine — Central Maine Power anticipated smooth sailing for a proposal for bringing Canadian hydropower into New England after the so-called “Northern Pass” stalled in New Hampshire. After all, CMP already owned the entire path along existing utility corridors and through remote forests.

But more than two years later, the project is still awaiting regulatory approvals, towns along the route are revolting and opponents are pursuing a referendum to stop the project.

The utility’s parent recently formed a political action committee to make the case for the $1 billion project with the expectation that critics will collect enough signatures to put the matter before voters next year.

Jon Reed, who’s heading up the Clean Energy Matters campaign, said the goal is to ensure residents understand the environmental and economic benefits for Maine are real. Furthermore, the full financial cost is being borne by Massachusetts ratepayers.

“It’s one of the largest projects in Maine history. The company has invested a lot to bring this. They’ve invested a lot in permitting. They’ve invested a lot in this future asset that’ll be paid for by ratepayers in another state,” he said.

But critics say CMP underestimated the environmental harm and failed to take into account the impact on homegrown solar, wind and biomass projects in Maine. They also question the long-term gains for Maine ratepayers.

“What it comes down to, Maine is getting a lousy deal,” said Tom Saviello, a former state senator who’s pressing for the referendum vote.

Most of the 145-mile transmission line would follow established utility corridors, and a new swath would be cut through 53 miles of wilderness in western Maine to the Canadian border on land that CMP owns.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has given its blessing. But the Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission won’t be issuing decisions until after the new year.

Critics already have collected tens of thousands of petitions with a goal of pressing for a statewide vote in November 2020. More than 63,000 valid signatures would have to be submitted by Feb. 3 to make the ballot.

The idea for the New England Clean Energy Connect was conceived to meet Massachusetts’ clean-energy goals and embraced after New Hampshire regulators pulled the plug in 2018 on the Northern Pass project.

But it’s been far from smooth sailing for CMP, and a series of recent miscues have harmed the utility’s public perception.

The proposal was made before CMP came under intense criticism for a botched rollout of a new billing system. The utility was also criticized for its response to a wind storm. In November, CMP was ranked dead last in a nationwide survey of business customers’ opinions of their utility companies by J.D. Power.

CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, has provided $500,000 to the Clean Energy Matters PAC to tout the benefits of the project and to counter hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by opponents.

“We have 120 years of history in Maine. We need to get that trust back,” CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said.

Maine’s governor, Democrat Janet Mills, remains a supporter of the transmission project after CMP proposed $258 million in incentives, including electric vehicle charging stations, subsidized heat pumps, and rural broadband funding. But she doesn’t plan a public role in the upcoming campaign, said spokeswoman Lindsay Crete.

“She hopes in the coming months Maine people will study the issue closely, learn the facts, and weigh the benefits against the costs. She believes the project, on balance, will benefit the state, strengthen our economy, and protect our environment,” Crete said.

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Comment by Willem Post on December 3, 2019 at 9:10am

If that unsteady wind electricity could not be fed into the grid, how will it be made into steady electricity to operate a hydrogen/CO2 methanization plant, which requires STEADY electricity to function.

Would expensive batteries be used to store the unsteady wind electricity?

The AC to AC losses via a battery system would be 20% on top of the losses mentioned in my prior comment.

A Rube Goldberg of the worst kind that would further screw hard working Jane and Joe Maine Worker, using the shibboleth of “fighting climate change”, but, in reality, would benefit millionaire wind turbine owners and polish the deluded egos of Disgusta’s RE bureaucracy 

Comment by Willem Post on December 1, 2019 at 10:14am

1. Electricity is used to electrolytically split water into hydrogen and oxygen

2. The hydrogen is combined with biological CO2 to produce methane, CH4 ( Sabatier process)

3. The methane is fed into existing gas pipelines

After step 1 about 67 to 81 percent of the starting energy is left over.

After step 2 about 54 to 65 percent of the starting energy is left over.

The A to Z process is ridiculously expensive and makes no economic sense at all, in Germany as well as in Maine.

It would be far less costly to just pay the wind turbine owners for the curtailed electricity, as is done in many jurisdictions, all over the world.

Comment by Willem Post on December 1, 2019 at 6:45am

The P2G plant would be using expensive wind electricity, at 10 c/kWh, to produce natural gas, which is a 10 c/kWh process, a total cost of 20 c/kWh.

This is utterly irrational, with abundant domestic natural gas readily available at about $3/million Btu, which would produce electricity at 5 c/kWh, using 60%-efficient combined cycle gas turbine plants.

This will benefit the self-serving millionaire subsidy chasers and polish the egos of the dreamy RE bureaucrats who are aiding and abetting this economic travesty.

Maine is rapidly becoming a dysfunctional, Rube Goldberg state 

Comment by Willem Post on December 1, 2019 at 6:28am

The curtailment is due to wind electricity up and down variability that is upsetting the grid stability.
The wind turbine systems also draw reactive power from the grid that is upsetting the grid.

All traditional power plants provide reactive power to the grid.

Many wind turbine plants have battery systems to smooth the wind electricity variations before feeding into the grid.

Some wind turbine plants have synchronous condenser systems that smooth the wind electricity variations and provide reactive power to the grid

Comment by Penny Gray on November 30, 2019 at 1:13pm

That's a very good question, Eric Tuttle.  Theoretically speaking, none of that renewable energy would have been "curtailed".

I must say that seeing "Kurt Adams" and "now defunct" in the same sentence was interesting.

Comment by Eric A. Tuttle on November 30, 2019 at 12:49pm

"Maine could be a prime location for a pilot project that converts surplus electricity from wind farms and other renewable generators into a gas that can be stored in underground pipelines."

So, how does Maine have surplus wind or other renewable energy when all other generators must under law throttle back to allow wind and other renewables to have first consuption priority?

This is the down/up cycling that prematurely wears out some generator equipment along with contributing to more CO² while sitting in Idle mode awaiting the next up cycle when wind or solar is unavailable.

Comment by Thinklike A. Mountain on November 30, 2019 at 12:45pm

Maine's Vacationland nickname to be replaced by "The Rube Goldberg State"


Maine as Third World Country:

CMP Transmission Rate Skyrockets 19.6% Due to Wind Power


Click here to read how the Maine ratepayer has been sold down the river by the Angus King cabal.

Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting – Three Part Series: A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE’S WIND ACT


(excerpts) From Part 1 – On Maine’s Wind Law “Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine if the law’s goals were met." . – Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 2010 Part 2 – On Wind and Oil Yet using wind energy doesn’t lower dependence on imported foreign oil. That’s because the majority of imported oil in Maine is used for heating and transportation. And switching our dependence from foreign oil to Maine-produced electricity isn’t likely to happen very soon, says Bartlett. “Right now, people can’t switch to electric cars and heating – if they did, we’d be in trouble.” So was one of the fundamental premises of the task force false, or at least misleading?" Part 3 – On Wind-Required New Transmission Lines Finally, the building of enormous, high-voltage transmission lines that the regional electricity system operator says are required to move substantial amounts of wind power to markets south of Maine was never even discussed by the task force – an omission that Mills said will come to haunt the state.“If you try to put 2,500 or 3,000 megawatts in northern or eastern Maine – oh, my god, try to build the transmission!” said Mills. “It’s not just the towers, it’s the lines – that’s when I begin to think that the goal is a little farfetched.”

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Hannah Pingree on the Maine expedited wind law

Hannah Pingree - Director of Maine's Office of Innovation and the Future

"Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine."

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