Northern Maine electric power connection iced

Posted Feb. 05, 2009, at 7:41 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:02 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — State regulators on Thursday formally dismissed a $625 million power grid expansion necessary to support a massive wind farm in northern Maine, putting the Maine Power Connection project on ice for the time being.

Despite the setback, the partners on the power grid project and Aroostook Wind Energy insisted they weren’t giving up on the idea.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission issued a written order dismissing the project after Aroostook Wind Energy discovered unanticipated technical hurdles. Aroostook Wind also said the economics had changed since the power grid expansion was first proposed.

Central Maine Power and Maine Public Service Co. partnered on the proposed 345,000-volt line from central Maine to northern Aroostook County.

“This is a big and complex undertaking,” said John Carroll, a spokesman for Central Maine Power in Augusta. “The fact that we hit bumps in the road is understandable, but that doesn’t change our commitment to solving these problems.”

The project is aimed at connecting northern Maine to the regional New England grid for the first time in addition to providing a conduit for the wind energy to reach power-hungry southern New England.

Residents of northern Maine have not enjoyed the potential fruits of electric deregulation because Maine Public Service Co. is not connected to the rest of the New England power grid. Aroostook County is connected to the grid in neighboring New Brunswick.

By connecting to the New England grid, officials hoped to increase competition and drive down prices for customers in the Maine Public Service area. At the same time, the improvements would accommodate power from proposed wind turbine projects in northern Maine.

Aroostook Wind, a subsidiary of Texas-based Horizon Wind Energy LLC, had proposed building wind towers capable of producing 800 megawatts of electricity, about the same amount of electricity produced by the Maine Yankee power plant when it was in operation.

But utility officials discovered that the project as proposed could cause power grid instability to the south, and Aroostook Wind decided against further studies.

Critics of the project petitioned for Maine Public Utilities Commission to toss the power transmission proposal, and the commission did so over the objections of CMP and Maine Public Service. The utilities and Aroostook Wind are allowed to resubmit a revised proposal.

“The (PUC) dismissal and financial market challenges are presenting immediate hurdles for the project. However, we remain optimistic on long-term potential to bring renewable energy from Aroostook County to the market,” said Brian Lammers, development director for Horizon Wind Energy.

Virginia Joles, spokesman for Maine Public Service Co., said there are solutions to the power grid instability, but they could be expensive to resolve. One option is trying to tap into some of the economic stimulus money proposed by President Barack Obama.

No one is throwing in the towel, she said.

“CMP and MPS are committed to finding the transmission solution that enables renewable power generation in northern Maine and enhances access to competitive energy markets for the people and businesses in that region,” Carroll said.

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