Thursday is a big day for the future of renewable energy in Maine and around New England. Bids are due for massive, long-term contracts for renewable energy to serve southern New England — potentially worth billions of dollars.
Proposals are expected that could significantly increase the number of wind turbines in Maine, while adding miles of new transmission lines needed to move that energy south.
Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts plan to meet their clean energy goals by banding together to procure 15-20 year contracts for hundreds of megawatts of non- or low-carbon energy capacity from solar, hydro or wind power generators. Many observers say that the single largest opportunity to serve that load lies in Maine.
“We are a power house when it comes to renewable energy resources,” says Patrick Woodcock, Gov. Paul LePage’s energy chief. “Whether its wind … I would anticipate that there would be some solar projects that are proposed. There is a route to Canadian hydropower, so we have been watching this pretty closely.”
And several observers say the state’s two largest transmission utilities, Central Maine Power and Emera, are expected to be in the mix, although their specific plans won’t be revealed until later Thursday afternoon.
In one possible project, the two utilities would work together to build new transmission lines capable of bringing wind energy from new turbines in Aroostook County down to southern New England. In another, CMP would build new transmission lines to serve wind projects in western Maine.
Woodcock says the way the tristate request for proposals is written, the cost of building new transmission would be entirely paid by electricity consumers in southern New England. And some observers say that even though Mainers won’t be buying any of the new power generation, the addition of significant amounts of relatively low-cost wind energy to the region’s power supply could lower electricity prices throughout New England, including in Maine.
But Woodcock says that’s not guaranteed, and there are other risks as well.
“The bottom line is the governor always looks at impacts to the state’s economy and that means, one, what are the benefits to Maine ratepayers?” He says. “And secondly, let’s make sure that the populations that are most directly affected by these projects have a role in the regulatory process.”
In addition to Maine-based projects, transmission lines proposed in Vermont and New Hampshire could be players in the competitive bidding.
The bids are due at noon Thursday. The three southern New England states hope to award the contracts within the year, with construction completed in 2019.