PUC Approves Transmission Alternative for Midcoast

Portland Press Herald
By Tux Turkel

AUGUSTA — The Maine Public Utilities Commission today approved a pilot program to test alternatives to building costly new transmission lines in the midcoast region.

The agreement between Portland-based GridSolar, the Maine Public Advocate, the Conservation Law Foundation, Environment Northeast and the Efficiency Maine Trust supports development of a smart-grid pilot project in the Boothbay region.

This pilot is the first of its kind in Maine and is designed to test the use of non-transmission alternatives as a way to avoid building an $18 million upgrade to a transmission line in the region. These alternatives can include energy efficiency, demand response, in which businesses turn off unnecessary equipment at times of peak use, and renewable and non-renewable generation.

The proposal is tied to initial efforts by Central Maine Power Co. to gain regulatory approval to  upgrade its transmission system. The $1.4 billion project began in 2010, and is due to be completed in 2015.

The parties say they recognized that growing electric demand in the midcoast area will result in the need to enhance the reliability of the transmission system to meet electric demand during peak use hours – generally during the hottest summer days when the grid is stressed as a result of demand for air conditioning. The pilot will test whether alternatives can provide grid reliability at a lower cost and with less environmental impact than building new transmission lines.

“GridSolar is excited to test the availability and reliability of cheaper and cleaner options that will avoid the need to build a new transmission line on the Boothbay peninsula,” said Richard Silkman, a partner in GridSolar LLC. “We are confident we can secure the required (alternatives) at a cost lower than the $18 million ratepayers would otherwise have had to spend for a new power line.”

Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine Trust, said: “The trust will be combing the Boothbay region for businesses that want to upgrade inefficient electrical equipment such as lights, ice makers, air conditioners and refrigerators. Efficiency investments have the potential to save energy and reduce stress on the grid at a cost less than building new transmission.”

“We support this pilot because we believe that it will show that there are lower-cost ways to meet the same need that would be served by a new transmission line,” said Eric Bryant, senior counsel in the Public Advocate’s Office. “We are confident that the pilot will be successful and can serve as a model for future non-transmission alternative projects in other areas of the state.”