Today’s lede: Maine officials advocate steps to tamp down rising utility T&D costs. There is a roiling debate under way in Maine regarding rising electricity costs, and rising utility rates for transmission and distribution are a key factor, the state’s public advocate and a former director of Gov. Paul LePage’s energy office point out in the Bangor Daily News. See “Costly infrastructure is driving up Maine’s electricity costs”.
The economically troubling rising cost of electricity is “driven by more and more costly wires, poles and substations. This is a burden on Maine’s economy and households, and plans for further grid build-out at ratepayers’ expense keep coming, with [Central Maine Power] announcing a $214 million expansion for electricity infrastructure in Greater Portland in March,” observe Barry Hobbins and Ken Fletcher.
Hobbins is Maine’s public advocate and a former state legislator, where he co-chaired the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. Fletcher, a former executive in Maine’s paper industry and director of the governor’s energy office, is chairman of the board for the Efficiency Maine Trust. Fletcher also is a former Maine legislator with energy experience.
“Under state and federal regulations, monopoly utilities like CMP earn a guaranteed rate of return for spending ratepayer money on new wires and poles, creating a clear financial interest in making sure we have plenty of wires and poles to keep lights on but discouraging creative and cheaper alternatives to wires and poles,” the two write.
They fault Maine utility regulators for dragging their feet in implementing the Legislature’s 2009 smart grid framework and for “the rather stunning decision” last year to put the state’s utilities in charge of developing alternatives to wires infrastructure development.
They cited a pilot project in Boothbay Harbor where a $6 million investment in a combination of energy efficiency, distributed solar, storage and other alternatives to new wires was undertaken as an alternative to CMP’s proposal to build a new $18 million transmission line that would have cost consumers $75 million over the life of the transmission line. “There may be many more opportunities to capture this kind of savings, but they face big barriers, including those stemming from utilities’ financial interests,” Hobbins and Fletcher write.
“The electricity grid of the future won’t be — or shouldn’t be — the same as the grid of the past,” they write. “New and exciting technologies provide a powerful collection of alternatives to new wires, from the latest versions of well-known technologies like energy efficiency to rapidly emerging technologies like battery storage, distributed generation and sophisticated information tools to monitor and control demand for power. Many of these technologies give consumers more control and choice, and they can have a lower cost than new wires and poles.”
The two supported a formal recommendation by the commission’s professional staff to designate an independent coordinator to identify and propose lower cost alternatives to utility investments in transmission and distribution infrastructure. “[W]e should have an independent party with no financial interest in wires and poles to analyze and develop lower-cost alternatives to wires and poles.”
They called for amending LD 1487, An Act to Control Electricity Transmission Costs through the Development of Nontransmission Alternatives, now pending before the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, to establish such a “policy of independence and assign a group of stakeholders, including utilities and Efficiency Maine, to recommend how the details should work. This proposal would provide a bit more competition in an otherwise monopolistic arena.”
The issue is apparently not lost on state utility regulators, as evidenced by a passing comment made by Commissioner Carla Peterman of the California Public Utilities Commission during the recent National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners meeting in Washington, D.C. “As generation costs go down, we see transmission costs go up,” Peterman observed.
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Viridity installs 1MW Johnson Controls battery at N.J. water treatment plant. Viridity Energy has installed a Johnson Controls one megawatt capacity battery at an Atlantic County Utilities Authority water treatment facility in New Jersey, Michelle Brunetti writes in the Press of Atlantic City. The electricity storage plant is being operated by Viridity under a 20-year agreement, and provides frequency regulation to the competitive wholesale power market operated by PJM Interconnection.
“Every two seconds we are putting in or taking out energy,” Viridity’s Paul Reed notes. “We respond to a signal PJM sends to operators.”
The battery augments the 7.5 megawatts of wind power and a 500-kilowatt photovoltaic solar field at the authority’s site, which altogether supply about 60 percent of the plant’s energy needs, Brunetti writes. “On the most energy-consuming days, usually the hottest, the battery will stop doing frequency regulation and start providing power to the wastewater treatment plant, so it can avoid paying the higher peak demand rates.” This offsets electricity demand the plant would otherwise take from the grid, Reed notes.
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Cape Cod official calls for more Massachusetts offshore wind development. Stable, responsible development of a wind power industry off the coast of Massachusetts that achieves the full potential requires developing multiple projects concurrently and accelerating the schedule for power purchase agreement solicitations, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross writes in The Barnstable Patriot.
More than 2,000 megawatts of new offshore wind development has been proposed by Vineyard Wind, Bay State Wind and Deepwater Wind in the Federal Wind Energy Area more than 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard was molded with community engagement that minimized fishing, recreation, transportation, viewsheds and environmental impacts, the commentary observes.
“By ensuring robust competition and diversity in the offshore wind industry from the start, the Commonwealth will pay decades worth of dividends into the state’s economy long after the first turbines are spinning,” Northcross writes.
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