Today the Maine Public Utilities Commission gave preliminary approval to a settlement agreement regarding Central Maine Power’s (CMP) large transmission reliability proposal (entitled the Maine Power Reliability Project.) The Natural Resources Council of Maine has been an intervener in this case over the last two years.
NRCM believes this settlement puts Maine on a better path forward by pairing transmission development with serious progress on energy efficiency, clean distributed energy sources like solar, and smarter management of our energy resources.
NRCM supports the settlement agreement, which represents a major improvement over the original proposal, because it includes essential elements needed for a more efficient, effective, responsible and reliable energy system, including increased energy efficiency, new clean power sources, and improved future transmission planning.
In many ways our current energy system is broken, with overreliance on fossil fuels that damage our environment, economy and security, and with energy infrastructure that is stuck in the past century. Although far from perfect, this agreement moves Maine forward in the right direction.
The settlement includes significant support for energy efficiency, which is NRCM’s top energy priority. Energy efficiency is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way of meeting our energy needs, and must be the foundation of Maine’s energy policy. In addition to obligating CMP and Bangor Hydro to support increased energy efficiency funding, the settlement includes direct energy efficiency grants from CMP of $17 million for more than 10 years.
The settlement also starts Maine down the path of a functioning “smart grid,” with better use of information technology, more aggressive energy efficiency and demand response, and new distributed power—including large amounts of solar power. The agreement complements a new smart grid law passed this year by the Maine Legislature.
Pilot smart grid projects will be initiated in Portland and the mid-coast, along with pilot projects to use plug-in hybrid vehicles as part of a sustainable grid system. In a preliminary estimate, Maine may build 20 megawatts (MW) of solar power under this agreement over the next 5-10 years—only six states currently have more than 20 MW of solar power.
Nearly everyone wishes that Maine could have fewer transmission lines, however transmission lines are still a necessary part of our energy system. Although these new lines will have some measurable impacts on people and the environment, 99% of them will be located alongside existing power lines and right-of-ways, so they will not fragment or develop remote or wild places. NRCM will continue to work on rules and policies to ensure that transmission lines are planned and managed in more environmentally sensitive ways.
Most parties became convinced through this proceeding that a substantial amount of increased transmission lines were necessary for reliability in Maine. This is true in part because we have not previously made sufficient strides to harness energy efficiency to reduce our load growth. This settlement will help Maine change direction going forward.