Eternal sunshine is Maine’s power answer

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Grid projects are too costly. Maine should harness solar energy to make power.

Gov. John Baldacci got it partly right in his State of the State speech this year. Renewable energy must play a major role in meeting Maine’s electricity requirements in the future. But that renewable energy should be developed in Maine. The state does not need what the governor referred to as “energy corridors” that enable new generation to be developed in Eastern Canada and shipped through Maine to southern New England.

Energy corridors connecting Canada and southern New England represent the ground-level equivalent of the fly zone between the East and West coasts. Transcontinental flights do very little to improve the economies of the states in America’s heartland, and an energy corridor that delivers energy from Canada to southern New England will provide very little value to Maine’s businesses and households.

Instead, Maine should be focusing on developing renewable generation right here in Maine so that the green jobs created benefit Mainers and the property tax revenues from the generation investments flow to Maine communities. Maine ratepayers should not be asked to finance billions of dollars of transmission investments so that jobs can be created in Canada and businesses in Massachusetts can have cheaper power.

To do this, we don’t need more transmission. It is very clear that Maine wind projects do not require transmission corridors. Wind projects are online in Stetson Mountain and Freedom, Maine, and under construction at Kibby Mountain. New projects have been proposed in Rollins, Roxbury, Dixmont and Rumford, and others are in the pre-development stages of wind monitoring. Maine’s transmission grid is more than adequate for these projects and many more like them.

This is because Maine’s transmission grid was built to transmit electricity from Maine Yankee and Wyman Station in Yarmouth to businesses and households throughout the state. Today, Maine Yankee is closed and Wyman Station hardly ever runs. These two plants had a combined capacity of about 1,650 megawatts, an amount more than three times the total capacity of all of the wind projects built, under construction or proposed for development in Maine today.

There is a much better way to promote renewable generation in Maine. Our company, GridSolar, is a Portland-based company that’s proposed to develop distributed solar generation and a smart electric grid to meet projected peak loads in Maine instead of spending $1.5 billion on transmission projects that are unnecessary, obsolete, too expensive and highly controversial. On an average day, the amount of solar energy that hits Maine is more than the total amount of energy Mainers use in an entire year – yes, that’s right – more than all of the heating oil, gasoline, electricity, coal, biomass, cordwood and all other fuels combined.

We don’t need to spend billions of dollars on transmission to import energy from Canada, when spending that same amount of money on distributed solar generation here in Maine will provide us energy at about 3 cents a kilowatt-hour for 20 years, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the same amount as taking 100,000 cars off the road and will create far more jobs – long-term jobs – than any money spent on unnecessary transmission.

And if that is not enough, our project would not require eminent domain to take land from Maine residents. In fact, we have already had people ask us to consider their property as possible sites for our installations. (When was the last time someone asked Central Maine Power to use his or her land for high-voltage transmission lines?)

Maine needs to look to the future and not to spend money on yesterday’s technology. We need to invest in smart electric grids and distributed solar generation such as is proposed by our company to enable us to become less dependent on fossil fuels, to reduce our collective contribution to global warming, to create long-term, green-collar jobs for Maine workers and to keep property tax revenues right here in Maine.

Dr. Richard Silkman and Mark Isaacson are the founding partners of GridSolar LLC. E-mail [email protected]

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