Despite the termination of an electricity purchase agreement, plans for what would be the largest wind farm in the state proposed for Unorganized Territory of central Aroostook County are still on track, according to the company behind the project.
“We are still pursuing Number Nine. It is one of the best, most mature energy projects in New England,” Katie Chapman, project manager with EDP Renewables, said. While the estimated 119 turbine Number Nine Wind Farm originally was slated to come online by 2017, Chapman said that after several setbacks the company is working toward a goal of completion by 2020.
EDP Renewables’ power purchase agreement with two Connecticut utilities, signed in 2013 to line up customers for some of the power from the project, was terminated in July because of a number of delays, Chapman said.
The power purchase agreements with Connecticut utilities Eversource Energy and United Illuminating Company were terminated “once it became clear that we would not meet the project schedule milestones due to extraordinary delays in the interconnection process, the technical process for connecting to the grid.”
Chapman said the company has been waiting for three years for a study of the connection to the electricity grid from ISO New England, the organization that runs the grid for New England’s six states but not for northern Maine, which has its own network connected to New Brunswick. Exporting power from the Number Nine wind project would require connecting to the ISO New England grid via a new transmission line between Haynesville and Houlton.
Marcia Blomberg, a spokesperson for ISO New England, said in an email that “ISO has worked diligently and in a timely fashion with EDP to conduct the required engineering studies to identify what is required to interconnect their project without having an adverse impact.” She added that the transmission connections would be in areas that “were not designed or constructed to carry large amounts of electricity.”
The discontinuation of the purchase agreements left EDP on the hook for nearly $5 million in termination payments to the two utilities. “It is important to note that the past, present and future costs for the project thus far are entirely EDP’s and have not been passed and will not be passed to ratepayers or utilities,” Chapman said.
Going forward, Chapman is confident the transmission issues will be resolved and optimistic that EDP will find long-term, out-of-state buyers of electricity from Number Nine and potentially other wind projects in Aroostook County, she said.
EDP, along with a number of other renewable energy developers, are waiting to hear whether their projects were selected by the New England Clean Energy RFP, a joint effort by state governments and utilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to procure long-term renewable energy supplies for their residents.
EDP proposed supplying the states with between 250 and 600 megawatts of electricity and if selected for more than 250 megawatts the company could expand Number Nine to up to 400 megawatts or develop another wind farm in Aroostook County, Chapman said.
Proposals from New England Clean Energy RFP were supposed to have been selected by late July, but that process has been extended and there have been no decisions yet. “If not selected” for the RFP, “we would seek another buyer,” Chapman said.
Meanwhile, the Number Nine project’s application with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is on administrative hold and could either be amended or refiled as a new application, depending on the results of the New England RFP, Chapman said.
“If we’re selected for 250 megawatts, there’s not a lot of work to re-amend,” Chapman said. “If we’re selected for 600 megawatts, that would be a significant change and we would likely submit a new application.”
The state’s largest functioning wind farm is the 62-turbine, 185-megawatt facility in Bingham in Somerset County.
Chris O’Neil, director of public policy for Friends of Maine’s Mountains, a group opposed to the Number Nine and other wind farms, said the delays in the wind project may not derail the project but that they suggest some concern among utilities about wind projects dependent on grid changes. O’Neil added that EDP also has to resolve a number of environmental issues in its application, including concerns about potential impacts to bats that were raised by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in their comments with the DEP.
Chapman said the company is working on resolving a number of those issues, including the question of “curtailment,” the wind speed threshold for when turbines can start spinning that’s set in order to avoid harming bats, which fly at low-wind speeds. IFW has suggested a curtailment speed of 6.5 meters per second (the equivalent of 14.5 mph), while the company’s wind farms across the country generally have a curtailment of 5.5 meters per second (about 12.3 mph), Chapman said.