Ex-Maine Yankee property scouted as power-plant site

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PORTLAND (AP) – A Wiscasset property that was home to the former Maine Yankee nuclear plant is being scouted as a possible site for a new power plant that would burn gas extracted from coal.

Three separate investment groups are looking at the parcel, but no group has submitted a plan, the Portland Press Herald reported Wednesday. The 430-acre site in question does not include the section that housed Maine Yankee’s nuclear reactor dome, which shut down in 1997 after 25 years of operation.

One group, which met with state and local officials when visiting the site in September, is made up of people with ties to the coal industry, said Mark Bigge, a Bath entrepreneur who recruited the investors. He said the group plans to return this winter.

The other two groups invest in energy projects globally, said Poe Cilley, marketing director for Point East, which owns the parcel. She said all three groups have contacted the company in recent months.

“It would be a great thing for Wiscasset if we can get it,” Cilley said.

Investors are looking for sites in the Northeast to build coal gasification plants, said Richard Silkman of Competitive Energy Services, an energy broker and consultant. The region is dependent on natural gas, which is an expensive fuel, he said. Coal, however, is cheap and plentiful.

“Anything you can do that is cheaper than natural gas looks attractive to some degree or another as a source of electric power,” Silkman said

Rather than burn coal directly, coal gasification plants convert carbon into synthetic gas, which burns cleaner and more efficiently than coal. The technology is being touted by the Bush administration as a cleaner alternative to coal-fired power plants.

The Wiscasset site is attractive because a plant could make use of the electrical transmission infrastructure that connected Maine Yankee to New England’s power grid, Bigge said. The site is served by rail and has access to deep water, meaning coal could be shipped to the site by train or barge.

But Steve Hinchman, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said it’s unlikely that a gasification plant would ever win approval in New England because of the region’s strong political interest in reducing greenhouse emissions.

“A new coal plant – even if it’s clean coal – in Wiscasset is neither a good environmental or economic decision,” he said.

Former Town Manager Andrew Gilmore, who met with some investors in September, said the response from Wiscasset residents would be mixed. But if the technology is as clean as its promoters say it is, residents might support the plant once they learned more about it, he said.

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