February 17, 2013

Soot no longer an issue since plant rarely runs

Fifteen years ago, Wyman Station in Yarmouth was the largest single source of air pollution in Maine.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

On a stormy day in 1955, officials from Central Maine Power Co. huddled against a raw wind on Birch Point on Yarmouth's Cousins Island and turned the first shovels of earth for Maine's largest power plant.

Wyman Station was purposely located close to the city as a way to attract industrial investment to the Portland area. When it came to life in 1957, the plant nearly doubled the electric output of CMP's existing generation network.

CMP was proud of its new power plant. It was to be a gateway to Maine's energy future.

At start-up ceremonies, CMP President William F. Wyman looked on in the control room as the unit that would later bear his name came to life. Wyman told reporters that he expected the plant would be enlarged by 1961, to meet rising demand by homes and factories. Soon, he predicted, the plant could be converted to run on atomic energy, the much-anticipated power source for New England.

The construction of Wyman Station brought more than a power plant to Cousins Island. With money from CMP, the state built a 2,300-foot bridge from Drinkwater Point on the mainland to the north end of the island. Suddenly, the island was a suburb of Portland.

CMP also built high-voltage towers and transmission lines that connect Wyman Station to the New England electric grid. The power line corridor crisscrosses residential areas on the mainland and parallels the main road across Drinkwater Point and the access bridge.

Wyman Station took on its current form in 1978, when Unit 4 went on line. The 620-megawatt addition tripled the plant's combined output. A second row of transmission towers, 161 feet tall, was built to handle the energy, along with a second smokestack.

In its heyday, Wyman Station made its presence known with smoke and particles spewing from its stacks. Fifteen years ago, it was the largest single source of air pollution in Maine.

Jean Semonite, who can see the plant from her home on Princes Point, remembers when soot coated boats in the anchorage.

"It was a gray film that needed a lot of washing," said Semonite, who has lived within sight of the plant since 1965.

Air emissions improved after 1999, when CMP sold the plant to a subsidiary of Florida Power & Light as part of the state's deregulation of the electric market. FPL Energy invested millions in the plant and upgraded its efficiency. Later, the subsidiary changed its name to NextEra.

Soot's no longer an issue, Semonite said. The towering stack is just a visual presence, one she has come to accept, but would be happy to see gone.

Of course, one reason air quality is much better today is because the plant rarely runs. But Wyman Station doesn't have a perfect track record.

Last fall, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued $25,825 in fines for several violations dating back to 2006. Despite these problems, the plant is considered well run by the DEP, which approved an air emissions license that's good until 2017. That's a valuable asset for NextEra, regardless of what it decides to do with Wyman Station.

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

tturkel@pressherald.com

 

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