October 6, 2013

Exporting Maine’s 
wind energy

Southern New England utilities must find renewable energy sources, and many are signing contracts with major wind projects in Maine.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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In Connecticut, Schain said his state recently tweaked a renewable energy law to seek proposals from Canadian hydro power, if the 2020 target can’t be met with the newly signed contracts. It also plans to seek proposals for new, cleaner-burning biomass plants. As part of the current process, utilities also signed a long-term contract with a 20-megawatt solar electric farm in eastern Connecticut, which would be the largest in New England. But in general, Schain said, the state doesn’t have the space or the wind resource for the grid-scale projects that Maine does.

“We understand there are local sensitivities,” Schain said. “We expect these projects will be developed in the most environmentally sensitive manner possible.”

The Maine project that will serve Connecticut utilities is being proposed by EDP Renewables North America, a subsidiary of Energias de Portugal. It operates 3,700 mw of wind in 11 states and has U.S. headquarters in Houston. It’s planning to open an office in Presque Isle before year’s end and has begun meeting with residents and town officials in the project area.

The project, known as Number Nine Wind Farm, would be located in unorganized territories nine miles west of Bridgewater. It was first proposed by now-defunct Horizon Wind Energy, in 2007. Adam Renz, an EDP spokesman, said the power purchase contract and commitment to build a high-voltage line to connect the project with the New England grid, make it feasible now.

States including Maine have been encouraging renewable power development for three decades, by approving premium rates. The idea was to reduce dependence on oil, gas and coal, but the trade-off was higher bills for homes and businesses.

That’s why last month’s announcements of the power contracts in Massachusetts and Connecticut came as a surprise to many. While keeping the details confidential, officials said wholesale energy rates will hover in the 8 cents per kilowatt hour range over 15 to 20 years. That’s just above today’s cost of natural gas generation in Connecticut, according to Schain.

The long-term contracts will lower financing costs for developers, but the real breakthrough has come from technology, according to Matt Kearns, vice president for business development at First Wind. Better materials and designs allow companies to put up taller towers with bigger blades, which means more power output at lower wind speeds.

“The trend,” Kearns said, “Is larger installed capacity on a per-turbine basis.”

The trend is apparent at four First Wind projects in Maine.

The Rollins project in Lincoln was built in 2010, and is rated at 60 mw. It features 40 turbines that can generate 1.5 megawatts each. The top blade height from the ground is 389 feet, more than twice as tall as One City Center in Portland.

The Bull Hill project in Hancock County, completed last year, is rated at 34 mw. It has 19 turbines that can generate 1.8 mw each. The blade tip is 475 feet off the ground. This project won a contract during a first round of utility bids in Massachusetts.

For the latest contracts, First Wind won for two projects that would be among the largest in New England, a 147 mw wind farm in Oakfield and a 186 mw farm in Bingham. They would use 3 megawatt turbines – 49 of them at Oakfield and 62 at Bingham – with similar blade heights as at Bull Hill.

“Onshore wind has never been cheaper,” Kearns said. “It represents an opportunity for ratepayers to save an enormous amount of money. That’s why Massachusetts is buying it. Industrial customers wouldn’t say they were pleased, if they weren’t.”

The cost, according to Kearns, includes the 59-mile lead line from southern Aroostook County to Chester, to hook up the Oakfield project with the New England grid. EDP Renewables also will need to build a line to Haynesville, roughly 40 miles away, to get its energy onto the grid.

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