Commentary

Editorial: Wind-power agenda fuels CMP increases

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Photo of First Wind turbines at the Rollins wind project by Brad Blake

On July 1, most of Central Maine Power’s customers unknowingly suffered a 19.6% increase in electrical transmission rates. If they did notice the shocking increase to their electric bill, they most likely failed to connect the rate hike with the aggressive agenda to push wind power in Maine.

The dramatic increase—which is just the start of rate hikes that are coming over the next five years—will affect hundreds of thousands of ratepayers, including businesses, which are those entities that we’d like to see start hiring again.

According to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the primary driver of the 19.6% increase is the “Maine Power Reliability Project”—otherwise known as the $1.5 billion CMP upgrade.

“The major driver for these increases is the change in federally regulated transmission rates, which for CMP will increase by 19.6% and for Bangor Hydro Electric will increase 12%,” stated PUC Utilities Commission Chairman Thomas Welch.

Welch’s announcement implies that it is not the MPUC, but rather federal regulations, that have caused the increase. This rings hollow: the CMP upgrade was approved by MPUC commissioners—even though some MPUC employees objected.

The MPUC staff reported that the upgrade could be accomplished for far less than the $1.5 billion price tag—$667 million, to be exact. The Portland Press Herald reported in 2010: “Maine can have a reliable power grid for substantially less money, and with far fewer transmission towers and substations, than the $1.5 billion project Central Maine Power Co. is proposing, the staff of the Public Utilities Commission has concluded. In an analysis made available late Tuesday, the PUC staff said CMP has overstated and accelerated the need for its Maine Power Reliability Program, in part by using forecasts for growth in electricity use that have become outdated since the recession started.”

But the MPUC commissioners ignored their staff’s recommendation.

The staff’s objections were but a single dot in a years-long series of dots. Connecting these dots reveal a crony-capitalist agenda by politicians, bureaucrats, energy utilities and wind-power companies to fund the upgrade and subsidize the wind industry using ratepayer money—your money.

Kurt Adams, former chief counsel to Governor Baldacci, was MPUC chairman at the time the MPUC was working on the CMP upgrade. It was later learned that he had been interviewing for several months with a wind company, First Wind, which he would eventually take a job with.

While serving as MPUC chairman, Adams also took over $1 million in stock options from First Wind, according to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. The center wrote an investigative series on this issue. (See links at bottom of page.)

But Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills determined that Adams broke no laws when he accepted the job offer and securities from First Wind while still serving as head of MPUC.

Adams, who took the job of Director of Transmission at First Wind, still works at the company, which is the most active wind developer in the state. First Wind’s chief outside counsel, Juliet Browne of the law firm Verrill Dana, is married to Maine Democratic State Rep. Jon Hinck, who sits on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. The committee last year killed all 13 citizen-sponsored bills regulating wind power.

These bills led to what was called the Fitts Amendment, named after Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee co-chair Rep. Stacey Fitts (R-Pittsfield).

The Fitts Amendment came after Governor LePage proposed a bill to remove the state’s 100-megawatt cap on hydropower, which would have allowed Maine to purchase affordable hydropower from Quebec.

Maine’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which forces the state to invest in expensive and inefficient wind and solar energy, caps the amount of hydropower that the state can count as renewable energy—even though hydropower is clean, reliable and much more affordable than wind power.

Representative Fitts took the lead on the amended bill to maintain the cap. The Maine House approved the amended bill, but it failed in the Senate. The governor’s proposal died with it.

Fitts works for Kleinschmidt Associates, an engineering, licensing, environmental service firm offering specialized technical services to the “renewable” power industry.

Although the CMP upgrade is called the “Maine Power Reliability Project,” insiders know the grid “needs” to be made more reliable because it was not equipped to handle the thermal overload caused by sputtering wind power.

Wind is unpredictable; if it suddenly surges, the grid can be overloaded. When you plug in one too many appliances, you trip a circuit breaker or blow a fuse. But when the grid goes down, it could cause a widespread blackout—all because the grid cannot handle the unpredictable effects of wind power.

Do not confuse these surges with wind’s efficacy. In fact, wind power is a diluted, highly inefficient energy source. Maine’s onshore wind resource is actually 89% below the national average, despite the fact that Angus King told us we were the “Saudi Arabia of Wind.”

But wind can occasionally surge and destabilize the grid. An analogy would be widening Interstate 95 to 20 lanes for the one or two times a year a truck with an extremely wide load has to come through.

The officially stated reason for the CMP upgrade was primarily population growth, as well as the fact there had not been an upgrade in 40 years. However, population projections for the entire northeast (New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) total only 3.4% growth over the next 20 years. You can see The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s report on Maine’s population decline here.

Also, CMP customers can read the back of their bill to see that they are paying a charge every month to keep the lines maintained. Hundreds of thousands of Mainers pay for CMP maintenance month after month, year after year.

The truth about the CMP upgrade finally came out in September 2010. In the Portland Press-Herald, Ignacio Galan, chairman of Iberdrola Group—Spain’s global energy conglomerate that now owns CMP—emphasized the company’s strong desire to develop large-scale wind power in Maine.

According to the PPH: “Galan’s statements agitated Maine’s wind power opponents, who said they suspected all along that the transmission line upgrade was motivated more by Iberdrola’s desire to develop wind power than any concerns about reliability. ‘This makes it clear that the (transmission line project) wasn’t about replacing lines, it was about making Maine an industrial wind site,” said Steve Thurston, co-chair of the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power’.” Read the article here.

Another perceived conflict of interest at the MPUC is with David Littell. As MPUC commissioner, Littell must ensure that rates are “just and reasonable for both consumers and utilities“.

But at his other job, chairman for the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Littell is basically required to shove grossly expensive wind power—and thus transmission upgrades—down ratepayers’ throats.

The wind industry likes to scream it creates “jobs, jobs, jobs”, but most are temporary and are usually filled by specialized out-of-state wind crews. These short-term jobs pale in comparison to the year-round jobs that are at risk by Maine’s electricity rates rising even higher—to say nothing about the blighted affect that wind turbines and transmission lines have on tourism and property values.

Transmission expenses are a huge cost associated with wind power, wherever wind projects go up around the world. This cost comes with a long list of government subsidies and other methods of preferential treatment that the wind industry enjoys at the expense of citizens and ratepayers.

CMP’s lines had benefitted from extraordinary ratepayer-funded maintenance and were perfectly fine. If building these industrial wind factories all over the hallowed Maine landscape is the crime, then the transmission is the getaway car. And you, the average Maine ratepayer, get stuck with the bill for it.

Proponents point out that because Maine makes up only 8% of the ISO-NE grid, we pay only 8% of the $1.5 billion MPRP cost; the other states will pick up the other 92%. But they never admit that there are an estimated $30 billion in similar wind-caused upgrades slated for other parts of the New England grid—and we will have to pay 8% of those projects too.

Multiply 8% by $30 billion, then divide it by Maine’s ratepayers: this equals thousands of dollars per ratepayer. You will now start seeing this cost reflected in your CMP bill.

So if you look up and don’t see a wind turbine towering over your hard-won little green acre, look down and you’ll see one in your electric bill—and we’ve only just begun.

 

Links to the series by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting about former MPUC chairman Kurt Adams:

PUC chairman took equity stake in wind company

http://pinetreewatchdog.org/2010/05/06/puc-chairman-took-equity-stake-in-wind-company/

First Wind SEC filing change questioned

http://pinetreewatchdog.org/2010/07/18/first-wind-sec-filing-change-questioned/

Group asks AG to probe official of First Wind

http://pinetreewatchdog.org/2010/07/18/group-asks-ag-to-probe-official-of-first-wind/

Adams Investigation Finds No Conflict

http://pinetreewatchdog.org/2010/07/18/adams-investigation-finds-no-conflict/

 

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently producer for the Howie Carr Show. Follow him on Twitter @Stevie_Rob or send him an email at Steve@HowieCarrShow.com.

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