Maine Power Reliability Program: The largest transmission investment in New England history

By Ramona du Houx

October 31st, 2010

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The Maine power reliability program will generate 2,000 jobs each year for four years. graphic by du Houx
“More renewable-energy electrical sources will have access to the grid with the Maine Power Reliability Project,” said Governor Baldacci. “It’s huge for the state. Not only is it our insurance policy against brownouts and blackouts, it encourages alternative-energy producers and spurs economic development.”

MPRP is a $1.4 billion transmission project to upgrade the capacity of Central Maine Power’s electrical grid. According to Dr. Charles Colgan of the University of Southern Maine, the MPRP project will sustain an average of 2,100 new jobs a year during the five-year project. It will provide $61 million in wages and salaries for each year of construction, adding $289 million to Maine’s gross domestic product and $18 million in state sales and income tax revenues.

Governor Baldacci joined Iberdrola Group Chairman Ignacio Galán and Central Maine Power (CMP) officials to celebrate the start of MPRP last September.

Governor Baldacci said, “The commitment of CMP’s parent company, Iberdrola, to invest in critical infrastructure and research in new energy technology is essential to Maine’s economy and preserving our quality of life. Maine ratepayers will benefit, and thousands of jobs are being created.”

About 500 miles of new and upgraded high-voltage lines will be installed, including a new 345,000-volt line from Orrington to Eliot, and five power substations.

Iberdrola also began installation of more than 600,000 new smart grid electrical meters. The project received $96 million in federal Recovery Act funds for the upgrade in equipment, which will wirelessly transmit information to CMP and CMP customers regarding energy usage. The technology holds the promise of better management of energy use. CMP will also be able to better monitor power outages.

“The MPRP is one of the first steps to creating a smarter grid for Maine,” said Sara Burns, president of Central Maine Power. “Together with a $200 million investment in an Advanced Meter Infrastructure we expect to complete in 2012, we’re making transformational investments for integrating new energy resources, improving energy efficiency, and managing our system for greater reliability.”

altAt a South Gorham substation, the governor met with Chairman Galán and University of Maine President Robert Kennedy for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Iberdrola and the University. The MOU establishes education initiatives focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Iberdrola will provide financial support to assist the university in maintaining graduate-level student research in energy technology.

Iberdrola is also hoping to invest in building windmill turbines, in Maine, but is waiting until after the elections to make a final decision. Maine is already the top wind-power producer in New England and has created a goal of installing 2,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2015.

“Maine is rapidly becoming a recognized leader in renewable-energy development,” said Governor Baldacci. “We need a reliable and effective infrastructure to harness and move this power. Iberdrola’s investments will provide the infrastructure and technology to help Maine meet its energy goals. There’s a direct impact on Maine that will be immediate. It’s going to be a real shot in the arm, we haven’t updated this power grid system for over 40 years. When it’s completed, more electricity will flow from New Brunswick, and there’ll be capacity for additional wind-power projects in Maine.

The construction costs will eventually be recouped from New England ratepayers.

On the same day that CMP and Iberdrola celebrated their achievements, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved the merger of Bangor Hydro Electric and Maine Public Service, Maine’s second- and third-largest electric utilities. Last year Bangor Hydro Electric constructed a second transmission line, called the Northeast Reliability Interconnect (NRI), between New Brunswick and Orrington, Maine.

Eventually, CMP and the newly merged Bangor Hydro Electric want to link Aroostook County in northernmost Maine with the rest of the New England grid. That project, which is under study, would create a competitive market that will benefit customers in Aroostook County while expanding capacity for more wind-power projects. It also would serve as another conduit for bringing additional energy across the border from Canada.

“The cost of upgrade is being shared by ratepayers in New England, with Maine residents paying just 8 percent,” said Baldacci. “It strengthens Maine’s electrical transmission system, so we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket — by relying on future transmission corridors.”

As part of the agreement between the PUC and CMP, the company will pay about $17 million to the Efficiency Maine Trust to support energy efficiency improvements for Maine residents, businesses and major industries, as well as $1.5 million to support the PUC and the state Public Advocate’s Office work on the project.

MPRP has been in the works for some time. After the U.S. Congress deregulated the power generation industry in 1992, it created new demands on the national electric grid. In 2003, large portions of the Midwest and Northeast experienced an electric power blackout affecting an area with 50 million people, due to an overloaded grid. Afterwards the federal government advised utilities to upgrade. CMP and ISO-NE identified reliability issues that needed to be addressed, and the initial plans for MPRP were forged.

With the increase of alternative energy sources being developed in Maine, the MPRP upgrade is right on time.