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Energy Companies’ Proposal Could Help Expand Maine’s Wind Power Capacity

Regional energy interests are making a move to break up an electricity logjam that has stalled wind power development in Maine.

Over the last decade, Maine wind developers have built new turbines at a rapid clip, bringing overall capacity to more than 900 megawatts by last December. Maine now produces some 60 percent of the wind energy in New England — enough to power more than 150,000 homes, and developers want to build more turbines in northern and western Maine.

But in 2017, ISO New England, which administers New England’s power grid, hasn’t permitted any new wind proposal in Maine. Al McBride, the group’s transmission planning director, says the trunk power lines in Maine were built mainly to serve local loads — and they have reached their capacity.

“That’s one part of it. The other part of it is these proposals are located remotely from the existing infrastructure,” he says.

Developers have proposed hooking up enough new turbines to increase the state’s wind energy production five times over — at least on paper they have. But no single project developer could afford the upgrades needed to safely get any more bulk electricity onto the transmission system. McBride says it could cost $1.8 billion to meet just half of the demand that developers have indicated.

So now ISO New England and industry players from all over New England are asking federal regulators to let them cluster projects together for planning purposes and for allocating the costs. John Carroll, spokesman for Central Maine Power, says doing so could unlock the potential for a variety of new renewable power generation in Maine — not just wind.

“It’s really important to the larger question of how would Maine or how could those resources move ahead, whether wind or solar or even biomass, to pay for the connections, and the improvements that are needed to bring that energy online,” he says.

The industry and planners are hoping the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will act on the clustering proposals by next month. That would be in time to add credibility to bids already submitted by CMP and others in Maine for new, long-term renewable power contracts being sought by Massachusetts.

This story was originally published Oct 4, 2017 at 5:49 p.m. ET.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.