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New England grid chief: Cooperate on wind power

Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of ISO New England Inc., smiles during a panel meeting with New England experts discussing renewable energy development on Monday, Aug. 16, 2010 in Portland, Maine. Van Welie was scheduled to talk about power grid improvements and outline New England's potential for development of renewable power sources. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — A cooperative approach among New England states holds the best hope for meeting the region’s renewable energy goals by giving states additional clout and spreading the risk of expensive projects, the top official from the regional power grid operator said Monday.

A report by the New England States Committee on Electricity last month encouraged the six states — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut — to work together to select projects and line up bidders.

The regional approach shares the risk associated with expensive wind power projects and gives a boost to economies of scale that the region’s states can’t achieve on their own, said Gordon van Welie, president and chief executive officer of ISO New England Inc.

For all its promise, wind power output won’t grow by leaps and bounds overnight.

New England has 12,000 megawatts of wind power potential — roughly the same amount of electricity of a dozen nuclear power plants the size of the now-defunct Maine Yankee plant — but there are active proposals for only 3,000 megawatts on the books, van Welie told The Associated Press.

“There’s not going to be a big bang here. It’s going to be an evolution,” van Welie said while attending The Council of State Governments’ eastern regional conference.

The approach follows the slowing of the world economy and lowering of energy prices from 2008, when oil peaked at $147 a barrel. Those higher energy prices made an economic argument for renewable energy, but now it’s going to be up to states to ratchet up regulatory pressure, van Welie said.

New England states have a goal of boosting the proportion of electric energy demand met by renewable resources and energy efficiency by a combined total of 30 percent in 2020.

Meeting that goal would require significant investments in wind power and imported hydro power from Canada as well as a new network of high-voltage transmission lines.

A conservative goal for 5,500 megawatts of wind power and 3,000 megawatts of hydro power through 2030 would carry transmission costs of between $7 billion and $12 billion, van Welie said. One megawatt is enough electricity to serve 800 to 1,000 homes.

New England’s effort to get its act together on renewable energy development has been given new impetus recently by a plan in the works among Midwestern states to significantly expand wind power.

Some Midwestern wind power could be marketed to the Northeast, but it makes more sense to develop New England’s wind power potential instead of looking to the Midwest, van Welie said.

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