Thursday, December 5, 2013
GORHAM — The parent company of Central Maine Power Co. wants to develop large wind-energy projects in Maine after the $1.4 billion upgrade of CMP's transmission grid is finished in five years.
Gov. John Baldacci praises Iberdrola Group Chairman Ignacio Galan, right, for his company’s commitment to Maine’s power needs at a news conference Tuesday in Gorham.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
Ignacio Galan, chairman of the Iberdrola Group, toured the new CMP substation in Gorham, in background, as he marked the start of the $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Project on Tuesday.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
But any investments will hinge in part on policies that continue to support wind power development, said Ignacio Galan, chairman of Iberdrola Group.
If Maine signals that it's no longer friendly to wind power, he said, the global energy company will expand elsewhere.
"We will be involved in this state once the transmission line is completed," Galan said, "if the framework is here."
Galan made his comments to The Portland Press Herald before a news conference and celebration to kick off CMP's Maine Power Reliability Project.
The work will create 2,000 jobs during construction and pay $60 million in wages, according to CMP. It includes construction of 450 miles of new or rebuilt lines and five new high-voltage substations, similar to the one completed this summer in Gorham, where Galan took a tour as part of Tuesday's event.
After the event, Galan went to Portland to see one of the first of CMP's 620,000 old-style electricity meters being replaced with a digital "smart" meter with wireless, two-way communication.
The new meters will save CMP money and are expected to usher in a new generation of electricity management over a smart grid. The $166 million switchover, funded in part by a federal grant, will give Maine the highest concentration of smart meters in the world, Galan said.
Although Galan expressed a strong desire to harness Maine's land-based wind resources, he said Iberdrola isn't interested now in developing offshore, deep-water wind power. The energy is too expensive and the floating technology is unproven, he said.
Iberdrola is Spain's leading energy company and one of the world's largest utilities. It acquired CMP when it bought New York-based Energy East in 2008. Income from Energy East helped offset declining profits in Europe in 2009, the company has reported in financial documents.
Iberdrola also is a global leader in wind power development, with an expanding interest in offshore projects. In the United Kingdom, where it owns Scottish Power, its Iberdrola Renewables subsidiary has formed a partnership to build the world's largest offshore wind farm, with a capacity of 7,200 megawatts.
The difference between Maine and the United Kingdom, Galan said, is that the shallow waters there allow construction with conventional towers, and high electricity prices support the large investment.
But Iberdrola is staying abreast of Maine's ambitions to become a research-and-development base for deep-water wind energy. That effort, supported by federal grants, is centered at the University of Maine.
Iberdrola officials in the United States have been in touch with the university, said Habib Dagher, the professor who is leading the effort. Galan may not be aware of the contact, Dagher said, but Iberdrola's construction staff is set to join him at a conference on offshore wind power next week in New Jersey.
Onshore, Iberdrola is heavily involved in wind power in the United States, through its Portland, Ore.-based subsidiary, Iberdrola Renewables U.S. The company has become the second-largest wind operator in the United States, with 3,800 megawatts installed. It's building a 74-megawatt wind farm in upstate New York and a 30-megawatt project in Vermont.
Iberdrola has said it plans to invest more than $6 billion in renewable energy generation in the U.S. by the end of 2012.
After deregulation in 1999, CMP had to sell its generating plants. It can only distribute power, not sell it. But Iberdrola could build power plants and sell wholesale electricity through a non-regulated company.
Galan said it's too early to talk specifically about where and when Iberdrola might develop its first wind farm in Maine. There's plenty of time to study sites, buy land and seek permits, he said.
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