Sunday, 17 May 2009

GridSolar Project fills demands, creates jobs, at lower cost

Despite claims to the contrary, we don't need to upgrade CMP's transmission lines in order to transmit the power from wind generation facilities in Maine to electricity users in the Northeast. Wind projects are already online in Stetson and Freedom and under construction at Kibby Mountain. New projects have been proposed in Rollins, Roxbury, Dixmont and Rumford, while many others are in the pre-development stages. Maine's current transmission grid is more than adequate for these projects and many more like them. This is because Maine's transmission grid was built to transmit electricity from Maine Yankee and Wyman Station, an oil-fired plant in Yarmouth, to businesses and households throughout the state.
Today, Maine Yankee is closed and Wyman Station hardly ever runs because oil is too expensive. These two plants had a combined capacity of about 1,650 megawatts, an amount that is almost as large as CMP's total load and more than three times the total capacity of all of the wind projects built, under construction or proposed for development in Maine today.
There is a much better way to promote renewable generation in Maine than to spend billions of dollars on transmission, as CMP has proposed.
On an average day, the amount of solar energy that hits Maine is more than the total amount of energy Mainers use in an entire year, yes, that's right, more than all of the heating oil, gasoline, electricity, coal, biomass, cordwood and all other fuels combined. CMP is wrong, Maine does not have to spend $1.5 billion to upgrade its transmission grid to meet projected energy needs on hot summer days when people turn on their air conditioners. This approach is the old way of thinking about electric grids, one that is designed to bring electricity from power plants in Canada into Maine.
The result will be that Canada receives the benefits of the jobs, investments and property tax revenues from the generation, while CMP's owner, the Spanish utility Iberdrola, gets a guaranteed 13% return on its investment. Maine ratepayers should not be asked to finance billions of dollars of transmission investments so that jobs can be created in Canada and businesses in Massachusetts can have cheaper power.
There is a much better way to ensure that our electric grid is reliable, our GridSolar Project.
The GridSolar Project is a first step in bringing the benefits of a "smart" electric grid to Maine. It relies on solar generation to serve the electricity demand of customers during the peak hours of the year when air conditioning is running full blast. Instead of a massive upgrade and widening of CMP's transmission corridors, GridSolar proposes building numerous small (25-acre) solar generating facilities close to the communities where the power is actually needed. These solar facilities will be backed up by propane-fired generators for those very warm summer evenings when consumer use of electricity remains high, but the sun isn't shining.
In this way, the GridSolar Project is a game-changer for the development of solar power and for Maine's future economic development, a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Maine to provide the needed power and reliability while creating thousands of "green collar" jobs in Maine, all at a cost that is substantially less than the $1.5 billion CMP is proposing to spend.
The GridSolar Project offers Mainers electricity at approximately 3 cents a kilowatt-hour for 20 years, compared to today's cost of about 8 cents a kilowatt-hour. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the same amount as taking more than 100,000 cars off the road and will create far more jobs, long-term jobs, than any money spent on unnecessary transmission.
And if that is not enough, our GridSolar Project does not require us to use eminent domain to take land from private property owners. In fact, we have already had people call us to ask us to consider their property as possible sites for our GridSolar installations. When was the last time someone asked CMP to use his or her land to string high voltage transmission lines and towers?
Maine needs to look to the future and not to spend money on yesterday's technology. We need to invest in smart electric grids and distributed solar generation such as the GridSolar Project to enable us to become less dependent on fossil fuels, to reduce our collective contribution to global warming, to create long-term, green-collar jobs for Maine workers and to keep property tax revenues right here in Maine. This decision needs to be made now, because once the transmission lines are built, this opportunity will not be available again for decades.
Richard Silkman and Mark Isaacson are founding partners of GridSolar LLC.

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