PORTLAND, Maine — State utility regulators on Tuesday rejected Emera Maine’s request to build a $15.4 million power line from Monticello to New Brunswick, arguing there are other less costly ways to address the northern Maine power grid’s needs.
All three members of the Maine Public Utilities Commission voted to direct Emera Maine to first see how it might encourage the upgrade of a transformer north of the border.
Mark Vannoy, the commission’s chairman, said the addition of a new 138-kilovolt line from Aroostook County into New Brunswick would still involve Algonquin Power’s Tinker transformer, which is due for an upgrade.
Commissioner Carlisle McLean agreed the transformer upgrade in New Brunswick would be the least expensive way to improve reliability of the separate northern Maine grid, formerly operated as Maine Public Service.
The PUC report estimates Emera’s requested upgrade would cost the average ratepayer — using 500 kilowatt-hours per month — about $34.07 more each year in transmission fees. If the regional grid operator negotiated with Algonquin Power to help fund part of the cost of upgrading the Tinker transformer to handle more electricity, the PUC estimated ratepayers could expect about $1.94 in added annual costs.
The commissioners agreed with the report of regulatory staff issued in late August, urging against the power line proposal.
In response to that report, Emera Maine spokeswoman Susan Faloon said the utility supports upgrading the Tinker transformer but disagreed that it would solve all of the reliability weaknesses of the northern Maine system.
With the decision Tuesday, the commissioners decided to move into a second phase in the case, considering the longer-term questions about the northern Maine regional grid.
That includes whether there’s any benefit to ratepayers from connecting transmission lines in the area to the New England power grid, something that wind developers in the area might seek in order to reach the regional ISO-New England market.
EDP Renewables has proposed a massive 119-turbine wind farm located about nine miles west of Bridgewater, which would involve building a 50-mile transmission line from Houlton to Haynesville, connecting to New England’s regional power grid.
Vannoy said the commission should hold off on approving additional transmission projects while uncertainties remain about that interconnection and the long-term future of the separately administered Northern Maine grid.
The commissioners directed Emera Maine to come back to them with a proposal for supporting the Tinker upgrade through their rates by Nov. 1.