Editorial: Wind-power agenda fuels CMP increases

0
10
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need for its Maine Power Reliability Program, in part by using forecasts for growth in electricity use that have become outdated since the recession started.”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/

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Years ago, when I was attending a show and tell presentation about the Reddington Wind Project, I overheard two men talking. It turned out that one of them was very involved in the project. His comment to the other man was – (You have got to get involved in this, it’s a CASH COW). That’s the whole deal – wind is a lousy source of reliable power, but they are selling it to the Go Green crowd, and making a ton of money on our backs. If hydro had anywhere near the incentive’s that wind has, we would have a lot more dams with turbines in them. Cheap, reliable 24/7 power. Time for Mainers to start replacing our legislators, and sending some of them to prison.

  2. Hydro dams as well as tidal power are much more predictable, but then Angus wouldn’t be making the money he is.

  3. Unless Gov. LePage can pull off a miracle, by the time most Mainers wake up, this state will be trashed by those industrial wind developers seeked the federal “cash cow” wind subsidies. Rate payers will be footing the bill to pad their bank accounts and our biggest and most reliable economic engine, tourism, will be buried beneath thousands of monstrous rusting turbines.

  4. More Democrat generated greed and corruption that the people of Maine are saddled with. It should come as no surprise. And King Angus actually thinks we’re going to send him to Washington so he can continue to line his pockets at our expense? Absolutely not!

  5. Now is the time to dig deep into Angus King’s business dealing the years since his reign over Maine. I’d bet you’d find a few million of your missing dollars in his pocket.

  6. Never imagined I’d see Maine politicos fall for this sort of scheme twice in my lifetime. When I was in college, utilties (CMP) were forced to buy power from expensive and inefficient sources like bio-mass boilers, etc. Electric rates rose accordingly. Angus King got rich by selling a firm that was well set up to profit from this. Now we’re experiencng deja vu all over again. Don’t people like Fitts learn from mistakes of the past?

  7. If anything “rings hollow” about explaining the root cause of the current increases, it’s the assertion that integrating wind power into our electrical matrix is the culprit for rising transmission costs.

    Maine consumers, along with others in the New England states, are currently experiencing increases which were know and identified several years ago for upgrading the transmission capabilities of the electrical grid to address (among other things) the potential for massive blackouts.

    What is distressing is that the cost of transmitting energy into Maine is rivaling the cost of generating it locally. As demand increases (a virtual certainty) transmission costs will eclipse energy costs unless we seriously pursue non-transmission alternatives, such as energy efficiency and clean-power (like wind, solar and tidal projects), and small-scale generators.

    This dilemma isn’t a result of greed or corruption nor can it be ignored because of slight declines in projected population growth. We have an antiquated system that must be addressed by upgrading and by changing our perspective on best to generate and conserve power going into the 21st Century.

  8. Vermont’s deal with Quebec Hydro for 6 cents/KWh reveals your ignorance about the costs of transmission and the golden opportunity Maine has to be an energy corridor for the terrawatts being generated ‘up there’ made necessary because of the blocked corridor in N.H.

    And we haven’t talked about the elephants…all those on-demand gas fired, power plants that are next to load, unlike Wind farms. Local natural gas fired power plants are indeed the wave of the future, and ironically relying on them is a consequence of the intermittent nature of wind energy and it’s subsidized costs.

    A number of utility analysts have the same read on this rate increase…

  9. Well, finally, Mr. Hallowell, you and I are not at odds.

    Admittedly, I rely upon the advice of a college friend (Mr. David Coen, of the Vermont Public Service Board) for my understanding of this highly complex arena. David is a man I trust and admire and has forgotten more than most of us will ever know about electrical utilities.

    For the past 17 years he has struggled with the delicate task of assuring quality electrical service to Vermonters at reasonable rate and with a keen understanding of the environmental implications of their decisions.

    You are quite right: there are elephants in the room, but ascribing the problem to wind power advocates and their greed is simplistic and nonsensical.

  10. I agree that conservation and small scale generators located near large population areas are the wave of a future. Co-gens using natural gas can fill the gaps until small thorium reactors take their place. Renewables like wind and solar will never be able come close to meeting this planet’s energy needs.
    “Replacing one 2,300 MW power plant on a site occupying a fraction of a square mile with solar power requires 178 sq miles of PV solar panels (@ the same specs as the new $100M Nellis complex), 307 sq miles of wind farms (@ the average density of U.S. windfarms), or 2,818 sq miles of corn field @ the optimistic yield of 500 gal ethanol per acre). That is what the Nature Conservancy calls “Energy Sprawl” and it is not environmentally friendly at all. The cosmic scale of industrial and agri-business reclamation of millions of acres of natural biome wilderness required to make any significant dent in the 98 quadrillion BTUs of energy this country uses each year is unconscionable to anyone who truly cares about the environment. It may counter to conventional wisdom, but fossil fuels have the smallest environmental footprint per unit of energy delivered by far, and that is a key metric of risk that all forms of energy must balance against their benefit.” C. Claven, Renewable Energy World

  11. Shall I point out that Cliff Claven is a character from “Cheers” and the fellow you are quoting (Cliff-Claven) is a commentator, not a contributor to nor a spokesman for Renewable Energy World? He has chosen not to provide any information at all about who he is. More importantly, all of the various comments he’s posted reflect a clear bias in favor of s sustained commitment to fossil fuels.

    This attitude is clearly not the point of view held by Renewable Energy World. Cliff-Claven is befuddled guy at the end of a bar reciting his own agenda.

  12. Ladies and gentlemen, at the end of the day fossil fuels cause greenhouse emissions and carbon expulsion that is destroying our environment. Every source of “clean” energy has one issue or another and people will complain about those issues to no end. At the end of the day, ANY clean renewable energy source is better then what we predominantly rely upon now. So, instead of complaining about the political agendas of this one or that one, get behind clean renewable energy as a whole and remember that any excuse as to the rate increase is just that, an excuse. Be a part of the solution. Be proactive in supporting clean renewable energy resources by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (REC’s) to offset YOUR personal carbon footprint on the environment. Yes, YOU CAN make a difference. Send me an email at SBennettIgnite@aol.com to learn how. Now, you can sit there and complain or you can really make a difference. Being complacent is still making a decision…a decision to do NOTHING, which is the WRONG decision. Make the right decision and contact me today.

  13. Okay…let’s consider a transmission ‘upgrade’ which isn’t
    part of the MPRP. In 2011, CMP built ‘Line
    241’ at an approximate cost of $5 million– borne by rate-payers. CMP committed to “use its best efforts to
    construct Section 241 by June 2012 in
    order for the Highland Wind Project located within Somerset County, to receive
    FCM qualifications.” (see PUC Docket 2010-180)

    ‘Highland Wind’…that’s the name of an LLC of Independence
    Wind and the name of a 39 turbine wind project proposed by Angus King and his
    partner, Rob Gardiner. In a state where
    we already produce more electricity than we consume, it is unconscionable that
    rate-payers should bear the cost of new transmission needed only for the
    economic benefit of this and other wind developers. Maine doesn’t need their unreliable, erratic
    and very costly product. Line 241 was admittedly to get the Highland
    Wind electricity to the market in southern New England.

    Highland Wind fought hard for Line 241 and they won. Maine rate-payers lost.

  14. Small thorium generators will be the real clean energy. No amount of industrial wind or solar will begin to supply over seven billion power hungry humans. I’m all for small scale point of source residential uses, I’ve lived off grid for 28 years on 500 watts of solar. What are you selling?

  15. Here is an update to this sordid saga. Record Hill Wind obtained $102 million in DOE loan guarantees under the 1705 Program in 2011, and $33,736,709 of the original loan amounts had a maturity of April 27, 2012. The DOE does not have the authority to extend loans, but it continues to fund the 1603 Program to projects that were under construction by December 31, 2011 and are placed “in-service” by December 31, 2012.

    The most recent DOE 1603 Grant Program funding list shows that Record Hill received a grant for the full amount of $33,736,709 in matured loans under 1705 on June 8, 2012. Record Hill Wind was singled out by Congressman Issa’s Committee as a project that never should have received DOE approval. So the funding represents a shift from a potential loss to taxpayers under the Loan guarantee program to an actual out-of-pocket cost to taxpayers.

  16. RECs are inspired by Enron and they are a scam, another way for the wind thieves to make more money on the same electron. Most RECs are puchased by polluters to allow them to buy their way into maintaining their pollution levels because it is cheaper than putting in expensive controls. The other large purchasers of RECs are insitutions like colleges so they can waste their money in an effort to boast how “green” they are. It is a scam all around and RECs do not justify the huge environmentally devastating footprint of industrial wind sites.
    Instead of pushing useless renewables which are neither green nor clean, I suggest you learn some science regarding energy density and some free market economics. Wind power, solar power, and ethanol flunk on both counts.

  17. The sole purpose of building a 345 kv line from Orrington to Elliot is for moving occasional surges of wind power into the ISO-NE grid. As far as MPRP, the upgrades to our local distribution grid in Maine are a small part of this scheme and, frankly, CMP should have been doing this as part of a multi-year capital improvement plan. A well run business would have done so.
    For months after the PUC granted approval for the MPRP, CMP spokespersons referred frequently to the wind power reason for the transmission expansion. Since they have acknowledged criticism from the Mainers who oppose wind power, they have stopped this reference.
    What we have with MPRP is an enpensive, over-built line that had to be designed to meet the capacity of poorly performing industrial wind sites for the handful of hours where the wind conditions are just right and these inefficient contraptions actually put out close to their rated capacity. One of the greatest fallacies of wind power is it is unpredictable, unreliable, and cannot be dispatched when needed or planned for.
    Taxpayers/ratepayers, hold on to your wallets because if we ever give in to the zealots who wish to mandate (as in force us!) 20% of our electricity come from wind power, we are in for an expensive time of it!

  18. What’s nice about Renewable Energy World is that both sides have a forum to discuss renewable energy topics openly and without censorship. I read and study everything on both sides of the issue. Having lived off grid for 28 years, I’ve been reading and studying for a long time. Claven’s comment saved me a lot of typing. I love Cheers!

  19. K.I.S.S. should be a maxim in energy policy planning; and you should realize that when the wind dies down or a wind farm shuts down in violent wind events, the grid doesn’t go black but fills in with ‘on-demand’ sources.

    This reality of relying on wind energy has forced grid operators to install on demand generation sources…in Europe it’s a form of hydro, pumped storage; in Maine and other places it is local gas fired generation—which is cheaper than wind power and lowers distribution costs as well.

    Simple, ‘YES’; nonsensical; ‘NEVER’.
    btw…you read your bias into my post. I never attributed ‘GREED’ to the wind industry; but I guess if you say so, it must be so.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here