Saturday, March 8, 2014
The conclusion by New England's grid operator that Central Maine Power's new transmission system limits the power transfer of nine renewable energy projects has set off a round of finger-pointing and second-guessing among those affected by the situation.
It also highlights one potential solution.
CMP may have promoted wind power benefits as a way to encourage then-Gov. John Baldacci to support the project and neutralize environmental critics, according to Andrew Landry, who represents some renewable power producers.
"For the Baldacci administration, renewables was a hot-button topic," he said. "But in hindsight, the benefits weren't there."
Tony Buxton, who helped negotiate the terms of the CMP upgrades with state regulators, said it could have been built for less money if the focus had just been reliability. His clients had a strong expectation that the new lines would help export more power to southern New England.
"Unfortunately, that appears to be untrue. The real question is, were we misled?"
John Carroll, a CMP spokesman, rejects that idea. In designing the system, engineers clearly picked an option that focused on boosting thermal loading, not transfer capacity. Today's critics should have been aware of that, he said, especially since some of them participated in technical discussions of the issue at the Public Utilities Commission.
"These are sophisticated people," Carroll said. "But they either didn't focus, or didn't understand what the project was about all along."
Beyond recriminations, participants are looking for solutions.
ISO-New England began its stability analysis more than a year ago and has pushed back the completion date several times. It now hopes to complete the study by early fall, according to Marcia Blomberg, an ISO-New England spokeswoman.
"These kinds of studies take time because they involve simulations of several hundred permutations of events that can happen on New England's highly integrated power system such as unplanned equipment outages, which are then tested under a variety of system conditions," she said.
In the end, if some renewable power producers are unable to economically use CMP's new transmission system, they have the option of building their own lines.
Among the proposals is the Northeast Energy Link, an idea being promoted by Emera Inc., the Nova Scotia utility company that owns Bangor Hydro-Electric; and National Grid, the British utility that operates in New Hampshire, New York and southern New England. The partners want to build an underground line capable of carrying 1,100 megawatts from northern and eastern Maine and eastern Canada. The line would roughly parallel the CMP system, and its $2 billion cost would be paid by investors, not ratepayers.
This approach could have a special appeal for First Wind, a developer with projects that are affected by the CMP system's limitations. Last year, First Wind and Emera formed a partnership to develop wind projects in the Northeast.
Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org