Workers upgrade the Central Maine Power station in Windsor on Nov. 28, 2021. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal, file

Mainers are increasingly using heat pumps, driving electric vehicles and switching to electric equipment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the growing demand will test the state’s power grid.

Planning to update Maine’s vast electrical infrastructure has begun – the Maine Public Utilities Commission held two work sessions last week after soliciting comments from utilities and other stakeholders – but the upgrades will take years.

Central Maine Power and Versant Power, the state’s main electricity providers, have 18 months to submit plans to meet the increased demands and provide other information, including forecasts of electricity load.

In the meantime, the PUC is accepting public comments and consulting with industry leaders, environmentalists and consumers to determine what will be required of the grid of the future.

So far, comments have focused on the need to build a grid that can handle significantly greater electricity use, ensure power is affordable for consumers and prioritize the transition to renewable energy.

Planning for a revamped grid is a “big, sweeping effort,” said Ian Burnes, director of strategic initiatives at Efficiency Maine, a quasi-state agency that develops energy efficiency programs. The PUC and industry participants, he said, are taking a “big picture look at it.”


Phelps Turner, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, said environmentalists feel an urgency to meet Maine’s climate goals, but the industry and its many stakeholders need to take the time to get ample input in order to do their work well.

“Transparency and stakeholder input are foundational principles,” he said. “It’s better to hear complaints early than after.”

No one knows yet how much a grid upgrade will cost, but it will be substantial, and ratepayers can expect to pay for some of it.

The Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills enacted legislation in 2022 requiring utilities to submit to the Public Utilities Commission plans detailing the expected effect of climate change on their equipment that transmits and distributes electricity.

Tesla charging stations sit dormant at a parking lot in Windham on Feb. 24, 2023. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer, file

The previous year, a report for the PUC said CMP had several elements “planned or in motion” to improve capabilities for increased electricity load and so-called distributed energy, from solar panels and battery storage. Versant had significant available capacity, the report said, for greater electrification loads and could provide a buffer against the impacts of extreme temperatures caused by climate change.

No one disputes the growing need for electricity or the importance of preparing to meet it. Power needed for electric vehicle use in Maine is expected to increase to 1,557 gigawatt hours annually by 2032, up from only 15 last year, according to a forecast by ISO-New England, the grid’s operator. Electrification for heating is forecast to be 1,352 GWh in eight years, an increase from 49 in 2023.


A GWh is equivalent to 1 million kilowatt hours, and a power plant with a capacity of 1 gigawatt can power 876,000 homes for one year, according to Carbon Collective, an energy investment adviser.

Chris Morin, director of integrated system planning at CMP, said as big an increase as that appears to be, a utility would not build a system on a forecast “eight to 10 years out.” Utilities and others will have “much more confidence” in forecasts as electricity demand plays out, he said.

David W. Norman, manager of regulatory support at Versant, said the utility wants “feedback from everybody” as it plans.

“It will drive a lot of decisions over 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years,” he said.

Policymakers getting the utilities to focus on their key priorities to prepare for rising demand is the “next big step,” PUC Chairman Philip L. Bartlett II said in a recent interview. “How do we get from here to there?”

Regulators are already looking at “shorter-term priorities” to improve the grid’s reliability and trying to figure out if spending by utilities on such efforts is sufficient, he said. The PUC last June approved a two-year, $67 million rate plan for CMP that helps fund an upgrade of the grid to increase reliability, resist storm damage linked to climate change and invest in clean energy.


Increased demand for electrification is a response to the growing push to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Maine is already a leader in heat pump installation, and consumer interest is growing as heat pumps become more versatile and federal subsidies help defray upfront costs. The Biden administration recently announced a $15 million grant to install hundreds of electric vehicle chargers in Maine.

Environmentalists say Maine utilities’ grid planning must follow a 2019 state law that charged the Maine Climate Council with developing a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. The state Public Advocate told regulators reliability at an affordable cost needs to be a top priority in a grid upgrade.

“The financial burden of meeting electrification goals must not fall disproportionately on those who are least able to bear the costs,” the agency said.

Rebecca Schultz, senior advocate for climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, outlined a few proposals that could help change the grid. Utilities could delay large grid investments until costs are spread more widely with increased use of electric vehicles and heat pumps, she said.

In addition, regulators could update rules to take advantage of new technology, Schultz said. For example, battery technology that stores energy is idle when it could instead be put to use responding to demands for electricity, she said.

Utilities across the country are projecting sizable increases in demand for electricity. The PJM Interconnection – which serves Washington, D.C., and all or parts of 13 states from Delaware and New Jersey to Illinois – released its forecast last week. It projects total annual energy use will be up nearly 40% by 2039. Rising energy demand in PJM’s territory is increasingly driven by new data centers and the accelerating electrification of transportation and industry, PJM said.

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