June 30, 2008

Group Targets Congestion of Wind Power Project


First Wind's Stetson Mountain project is unnecessarily creating congestion on Maine's New England power grid transmission lines, thanks to state policymakers' rush to create more wind energy in the state, an anti-wind energy group's leader charged Sunday.

"They pushed through the project without contemplating the interconnection problems of the existing projects and the new ones that may come on line," said Lisa Linowes, executive director of Industrial Wind Action Group.

"It's more about getting wind [turbines] on the ridgelines or whatever than making smart choices about wind power," Linowes added.

First Wind and officials from Brookfield Renewable Power Inc. of Millinocket, one of the companies affected by the congestion, according to Linowes' scenario, denied her claims.

Linowes pointed to a June 2007 report written by RLC Engineering for ISO-New England, which manages the grid, and Bangor Hydro- Electric Co. stating that Brookfield Power's 126-megawatt hydroelectric system in Millinocket and East Millinocket and Indeck's 25-megawatt biomass boiler in Enfield would have to power down significantly or go off line to accommodate electricity from the Stetson Mountain project when that comes on line by the end of this year.

Brian Stetson, general manager of Brookfield Renewable Power Inc. of Millinocket, said his company was concerned about demand exceeding capacity on Line 64, the grid transmission line that runs among the three generators.

But meetings with ISO-New England and state officials have assured Brookfield that the established power generators' needs would come first when the Stetson Mountain project goes active, Stetson said.

"Through discussions with the state PUC [Public Utilities Commission] we were able to learn that our transmission rights weren't going to be jeopardized," Stetson said. "In layman's terms, they [First Wind] were going to have to take a back seat to our transmission needs."

Indeck received the same assurances, said Matt Kearns, a project manager with First Wind. Indeck officials could not be reached for comment.

With the paper mill in Millinocket as its primary customer, Brookfield's power generator seldom sends electricity to the grid, and then only a small percentage of its total capacity, Stetson said.

With the 38-turbine Stetson Mountain site being built between Danforth and Springfield and a 28-turbine wind farm operating in Mars Hill, First Wind is the state's largest, and first, wind power producer.

The company also hopes to build 40 1.5-megawatt windmills creating as much as 60 megawatts of electricity on sites in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.

Stetson Mountain should be completed by year's end, said John LaMontaigne, First Wind's spokesman. About a dozen of the 38 turbines are built and on their mounts.

With about 1,300 members nationwide, Industrial Wind Action Group is a largely New Hampshire-based organization that describes itself as "formed to counteract the misleading information promulgated by the wind energy industry and various environmental groups" on its Web site, www.windaction.org.

"Wind developers and environmentalists will not come out and admit that we can build wind turbines and fill all New England and still going to have to build conventional generation to meet the conventional demand for electricity," Linowes said.

She described wind power as an erratic, seasonal electricity source that can meet only a fraction of the total market's needs and that seldom reaches its megawatt capacity. Of all wind power generators east of the Mississippi River, Mars Hill came closest, generating about 36 percent of its capacity in its first year.

LaMontaigne and other First Wind officials describe wind power as a variable but pollution-free way to meet the electricity needs of millions of consumers nationwide. The smallest of its plants, Mars Hill, powered the equivalent of 16,000 to 18,000 homes in Maine last year, they said.

First Wind also cites hosts of state and independent organizations that support wind energy.

Linowes' remarks came about a week after Peregrine Technologies of Harpswell announced that its proposed $50 million, 17-megawatt biomass boiler project intended for the Huber Industrial Park in Millinocket would not occur due to, among other things, congestion on the New England power grid caused by First Wind and a lack of upgrading.

Four large grid upgrades are in the works totaling more than $2 billion that would, if built, completely transform the power grid's connection between Maine and the rest of New England, but none is scheduled to be completed before 2010.

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