Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Two international energy companies are proposing a $2 billion project that would carry vast amounts of renewable power from northern and eastern Maine and the Canadian Maritimes to Massachusetts through underground wires along interstate highways.
The 227-mile line, which would carry renewable energy mostly from wind farms to be built in Maine, would be buried along Interstates 95 and 295 from Bangor to the New Hampshire border. Energy would be transmitted primarily to Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Gregory Rec/2010 Press Herald file
The Northeast Energy Link would primarily serve wind farms to be built in Maine, as well as hydro, wind and other generation sources in Atlantic Canada.
Promoters say the project could lower energy costs by $714 million for Maine customers over 30 years, and generate revenue in the form of lease payments and local taxes.
Nova Scotia-based Emera Inc. and its Maine subsidiary, Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., are teaming up with the American arm of British electricity giant National Grid to develop the project.
The line will have a capacity of 1,100 megawatts, equal to the output of a large nuclear or gas-fired power plant. It would transmit energy from wind farms in Maine to be built by First Wind Holdings. Last summer, Boston-based First Wind and Emera closed a $361 million deal to jointly own and operate wind projects in the Northeast.
The 227-mile line would consist of two parallel, direct-current cables, each five inches in diameter. The proposed route would run generally within the Interstate 95, 295 and 495 corridors from Orrington to Tewksbury, Mass. In Maine, the cables would be buried along the inside edge of Interstate 95 and 295 from Bangor to the New Hampshire border, a distance of 176 miles. The detailed alignment of the transmission line would be made through collaboration with the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Turnpike Authority and other agencies.
The Northeast Energy Link has been in the planning stage for five years. But earlier this month, the parties filed a formal letter of intent with Maine's Interagency Review Panel, a new group formed to oversee proposed transmission projects in three, state-designated energy corridors.
In the letter of intent, Emera and National Grid say that they have the resources and financing capacity to fully support and operate the project from start to finish.
Ken Fletcher, director of Gov. LePage's energy office and a member of the project review panel, said the proposal is appealing in part because it's a "merchant line," meaning it's privately financed and doesn't put electricity ratepayers at risk.
This letter is the start of a long and uncertain process. The venture is bound to face opposition from wind power foes, for instance. If approved by various federal agencies, regulators in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and by New England's power grid operator, the transmission line would go into service in 2018.
For now, it's not clear exactly where the turbines that will supply all the energy would be built.
"We have a number of projects that we're looking at," John Lamontagne, a spokesman for First Wind told the Portland Press Herald. He said it was too soon to discuss details.
Earlier this year, First Wind won approval from state regulators for a 150-megawatt project in the Aroostook County town of Oakfield. The wind farm will have 50 turbines. But to develop a generating capacity of up to 1,100 megawatts, First Wind would need to develop several more large projects.
The line is being proposed to satisfy the need for renewable energy in New England, primarily in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Those states have aggressive laws to reduce their shares of electricity generated from oil, coal and natural gas, and increase capacity from wind, hydro, tidal and other regional sources, through policies known as renewable portfolio standards.
"The supply of renewables in New England has not kept up with the growing demand for these standards," Gerry Chasse, Bangor Hydro's president, told the newspaper.
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