January 20, 2013

Maine still pursuing Canadian electricity

The LePage administration wants Hydro-Quebec to sell power here, possibly at the expense of wind and biomass generators.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

Aerial views show the powerhouses from Hydro-Quebec’s Eastmain-1-A and Eastmain-1 hydroelectric stations near James Bay.

Courtesy Hydro-Quebec

This influence will be on display this winter, if, as expected, LePage reintroduces legislation aimed at courting Hydro-Quebec.

It's a complicated calculus, but in a nutshell: Renewable energy producers in Maine under 100 megawatts are rewarded with premium rates when they sell their energy.

Wind projects over 100 megawatts are also eligible for these rates; however, LePage wants to remove the 100-megawatt cap for all sources. He thinks that will open the door for larger generators -- namely Hydro-Quebec -- to offer low-cost supply here.

LePage and many Republicans also detest the taxpayer subsidies that help support wind power development, which they say drive up rates.

Wind developers and their allies in the construction field will fight any changes, of course. But LePage is also getting flak from one of Maine's largest employers -- the pulp and paper industry. Seven paper mills have invested more than $154 million in wood-fired generators that qualify for the premium rates, and they've made it clear that they don't want Hydro-Quebec competing in the market.

LITTLE CHANGE IN 30 YEARS

In the end, this fight may be over nothing. LePage was unable last year to get his 100-megawatt cap change through the Legislature, when Republicans were in charge. He's not likely to do better, with Democrats that favor local renewables. Beyond that, not much has changed since Gordon Weil and Joe Brennan went to Montreal, more than 30 years ago. Maine continues to enjoy a cultural closeness with its neighbor, but after all the happy talk, discount power is reserved for Quebec.

And as for the myth that Canadian hydroelectricty is "cheap," current development costs would argue otherwise.

Hydro-Quebec is phasing in a multi-year project near James Bay called Eastmain-1-A/Sarcelle/Rupert, 900 miles north of Quebec City. It will have a total capacity of 918 megwatts, comparable to the output of a nuclear power plant.

The project will cost more than $5 billion. Hydro-Quebec says the cost of producing power at the giant dams is roughly 5 cents/kwh, and it will be sold for more. That could put the retail price in the 7 cents/kwh range -- similar to what CMP home customers who buy electricity this spring from the standard offer will pay. 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

tturkel@pressherald.com

 

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