Saturday, March 8, 2014
Special to the Press Herald
AUGUSTA - On behalf of everyone at Central Maine Power, I am responding to a recent news story questioning the benefits of the Maine Power Reliability Program, our company's $1.4 billion investment in Maine's electric grid.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sara J. Burns is the president and chief executive officer of Central Maine Power.
Over a period of almost four years, we spent thousands upon thousands of hours presenting this project to the public and reviewing it before state, regional and federal regulators. In every venue, we have said the project will meet three goals. First and foremost, the MPRP will ensure the long-term reliability of Maine's bulk power grid. Second, the project will create jobs in Maine. And third, it will encourage the development of renewable and other energy resources.
The reliability benefits of the MPRP have been confirmed by federal and state regulators in an open planning process with consumer and environmental advocates involved in every proceeding. Hundreds of individuals and third parties participated in the proceedings, and our plans were reshaped by the process. Given the authority and expertise of those charged with the review, the public should have full confidence that the project is the most cost-effective investment to keep Maine's electric transmission system reliable.
Our company also has highlighted two secondary benefits of the MPRP: jobs and better opportunity for the renewable energy industry in Maine. In a period of high unemployment, nearly 2,700 people work directly on the project as employees of CMP, our contractors, consultants or suppliers. In addition, a study of the economic impact of our construction spending estimated the MPRP could add as many as one-third more jobs to the economy through indirect and induced employment.
The MPRP also will create long-term value for Maine's electric generation industry by reducing transmission bottlenecks that periodically keep some generators out of regional markets and discourage investment in new projects. This is especially true in Oxford, Franklin, Somerset and Piscataquis counties, where wind, biomass, hydro, and co-gen resources compete daily to export their power over congested lines. The MPRP will extend our bulk power lines closer to those areas and reduce congestion in the regional system.
In the eastern and northern parts of the state, the MPRP will improve system reliability and increase our capacity to move power to customers in southern Maine and beyond. The daily power output from generators in this region flows across our lines today, and we will have more capacity in our system once the MPRP is completed.
So why are some generators and wind developers crying foul over unmet expectations? Did regulators at every level fail to do their jobs? Of course not. The responsibility lies with the project's critics, who, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission noted, "erred in their understanding of the benefit of the MPRP."
Maine utility laws deregulated the electricity generation business in 2000, giving private investment the financial opportunity and risk for building new generation rather than utility ratepayers. Recently, several power generators in northern and eastern Maine protested to federal regulators that the MPRP will not guarantee them risk-free access to regional energy markets at ratepayers' expense.
However, as the FERC confirmed, it was never the intent or responsibility of the MPRP to ensure that access. As other companies in the electricity generation business have done, those generators themselves could take responsibility for the studies and investments to ensure the access they want, but they haven't.
In a filing to federal authorities, the New England grid operator testified that "while Verso claims that it will lose 'up to approximately $1 million per year in capacity revenues' it has failed to request such a study. In fact, none of the Maine resources north of Orrington-South that were not qualified for the (Forward Capacity Auction) have requested" the necessary studies.
Representatives of these companies sat through hours and hours of testimony and cross-examination during the review of the MPRP. There are thousands of pages of public records detailing the analysis of the project. The purpose should have been clear to anyone who was paying attention, especially anyone with a large investment at stake. It's offensive to hear these same parties challenge our company's integrity because they "expected" a different outcome. They should examine their own expectations before they place the blame on others.
Our messages about the MPRP have been consistent, and we will meet our three commitments: reliability, jobs and expanded opportunities for new generation. Those are the things we have promised our customers, and we will deliver on our promises.