CMP powers up Larrabee Road substation in Lewiston

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Bill Sawyer, project manager of the Maine Power Reliability Program, leads a tour through Central Maine Power's Larrabee Road substation before power is turned on to the 345-kilovolt autotransformer behind him in Lewiston on Thursday. The 15-acre substation is part of a $1.4 billion power-line upgrade, the first to the Maine electrical grid since 1971.

LEWISTON — Years ago, powering on a $57 million, 345,000-volt electrical transformer might have involved engineers pulling a big switch, Central Maine Power President and CEO Sara Burns said.

Central Maine Power Photo

Sara Burns, president and CEO of Central Maine Power, uses a touch screen inside the CMP Larrabee Road substation to power on a portion of the $57 million project in Lewiston on Thursday.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Bill Sawyer, right, stands with CMP President and CEO Sara Burns at the Larrabee Road Substation in Lewiston on Thursday. After Burns powered up a portion of the $57 million substation, the connectors at top right spun to close the electrical circuit.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Bill Sawyer, project manager of the Maine Power Reliability Program, shows a smaller portion of the Larrabee Road substation in Lewiston on Thursday. "If you think of this as the interstate system, this portion would be like Route 100," Sawyer said.

Thursday morning, it just took a couple of pushes on a computer touchscreen. Burns did the honor and, with an audible hum like an air conditioner turning on, Maine's electrical grid became more reliable, she said.

"As easy as that," Burns said.

Burns and CMP officials powered the massive 750,000-pound Lewiston autotransformer for the first time Thursday morning. The new Larrabee Road substation is one of the linchpins in CMP's $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Program. Thursday's move was significant for one big reason, Burns said.

"When we energize today, we make the system more reliable," Burns said. "Up until this point, we've just been building — doing construction. But this is the turning point in reliability, and from this day forward, the project will continue to strengthen the system in Maine."

With the push of a button, motors rotated three T-shaped connectors into place, linking the new autotransformer to the rest of the 345,000-volt system. With a second push, Burns powered up the transformer.

Outside in the CMP yard, the machine made a clank like the tailgate on a truck closing. Inside the substation's control center, a barely perceptible hum could be heard.

Burns said the new operation shouldn't be any more noticeable to Lewiston residents or to anyone else in Maine.

"It's not going to change things today in a way people will notice," Burns said. "It's about investment in the system. This is built to support the future of development in Maine, of jobs and growth."

The autotransformer will reduce the voltage along CMP's network from 345,000 volts to 115,000 volts, making it suitable for delivery to the central Maine region.

Through its Maine Power Reliability Program, CMP is upgrading a swath of power lines through central Maine to connect to lines from Canada. They pass through Litchfield, Monmouth, Leeds, Greene, Lewiston and a corner of Auburn at the Durham line.

Work in Lewiston should be finished this summer, Burns said. Elsewhere in Maine, quite a bit of work remains to be done, she said.

"Lewiston is really a strategic spot," said Bill Sawyer, project manager for the Maine Power Reliability Program. "It's the point where a lot of the existing lines are already in place. There are 115-kilovolt lines that head west to the Oxford-Norway area, one that heads east to the Augusta area, two that head south to Lewiston and one that heads north to Livermore Falls-Rumford."

Two more 115,000-volt lines are to be built this summer, including a second line to Livermore Falls-Rumford and another line to Lewiston that is still being reviewed by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The program involves four years' worth of construction, erecting 442 miles of transmission lines across 75 Maine cities and towns. The entire program should be finished by 2015, with work in Lewiston wrapping in 2014.

Once CMP's work is done this summer, most of the activity at the Larrabee Road site will end. It will be closed and ringed with a security fence.

The system is designed to be fully automatic, Sawyer said. Crews will come by to inspect it occasionally, but there should be little need for regular staffing.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Penny Gray's picture

Is this why delivery costs

Is this why delivery costs have gone up nearly 20%? Demand for electricity is dropping, not increasing.

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