August 4, 2013

Inadequate transmission lines keeping some Maine wind power off the grid

Ratepayers will likely bear the cost of future upgrades to fix the problem, which could get worse.

By Tux Turkel
Staff Writer

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First Wind’s Stetson wind farm, in Washington County near Danforth, is among the turbine projects in New England that sometimes can’t send their power into the grid because local transmission lines are too weak. The problem is expected to become worse as more wind farms are built, and the regional grid operator is exploring ways to improve the situation.

2010 Maine Sunday Telegram file photo/Gregory Rec

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Wind developers want ratepayers to pick up a larger share of the upgrade costs, and they have a recent ruling by federal utility regulators on their side. To the extent that New England policy makers decide in the coming years that more renewable energy benefits the region, customers will help pay for new transmission lines.


Beyond upgrading transmission lines, the ISO has some ideas how to improve wind's availability and reduce curtailments.

The systems operator is planning to incorporate wind forecasting and weather information, as well as historical data, to help schedule turbines. Generators will be asked to automatically communicate real-time power output and weather conditions.

The ISO also is upgrading the algorithm, or data-processing calculations, used to dispatch wind plants. It will let plants know every five minutes how much power they can safely put onto the grid. These and other enhancements are expected to be done in early 2015.

New England also may learn some lessons from Texas, the country's leader in wind generation.

Three years ago, wind power expansion began to overwhelm the existing transmission network and the state's grid operator began backing wind down. Since then, it has reduced curtailments with a computerized data tool that helps balance massive amounts of wind power from West Texas with the Gulf Coast and northern Panhandle.

On one day last year, the management tool helped integrate 7,500 megawatts of wind power into the Texas grid, according to a report in Greentech Media. That added up to a record-setting 22 percent of the state's entire electric load. 

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


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