Look at a map outlining green energy opportunities in the United States and one of the things that leaps out is that offshore New England is among the best spots in the country to turn wind into electricity.

A federal government map showing offshore wind potential across the United States. The coast of New England is among the best spots. National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The company is pushing forward with multi-billion-dollar initiatives to create two wind farms off the coast of Nantucket Island about 30 miles south of Cape Cod that would together add more electricity to the New England power grid than its controversial $1 billion project to bring Quebec hydropower to Lewiston.

Avangrid is trying to spruce up its image, keenly aware that CMP’s billing errors and other woes have badly damaged its reputation. Its proposal to create a new transmission corridor through western Maine has many residents and environmentalists up in arms as well.

Robert Kump, Avangrid’s deputy chief executive officer and president  Provided photo

Avangrid’s deputy chief executive officer and president, Robert Kump, said his company must do a better job of getting its side out to the public by “dispelling myths” that critics have spread widely.

Company opponents are skeptical that CMP can get its act together, and vehement in their objections to the 145-mile transmission line that would be constructed or widened to deliver hydropower to the Massachusetts market.

Jonathan Carter, director of the Forest Ecology Network, said the line would be “a boondoggle of all boondoggles.”

The green energy claims about the hydropower project by the power company, he said, are “simply a lie” given the destruction caused by dams in Quebec.

Sue Ely, a climate and clean energy program attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the New England Clean Energy Connect project won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions and would fragment badly needed woodlands, damage trout streams and threaten tourism.

But Avangrid insists it is committed to expanding renewable energy sources for New England, driven by its recognition of the dangers of climate change and by the business reality that authorities want to decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

Avangrid is “doing everything we can to decarbonize” as quickly as possible, Kump said.

He said it has been trying to help combat climate change for “many, many years” and has every intention of making Avangrid’s 2035 goal for no net carbon emissions part of an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have led to an ever-warmer atmosphere.

The hydropower line through western Maine, which is backed my Maine Gov. Janet Mills, is part of the effort, he said, but it’s just one of three major initiatives by the company in New England alone.

The other two, little noticed in Maine, are offshore wind farms southwest of Nantucket that would deliver green electricity to Connecticut and Massachusetts. They have not stirred much opposition, partly because environmental groups played a role in choosing the section of ocean the federal government auctioned off to interested companies.

Windmills at sea. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior

Offshore wind is, Kump said, “an entirely new industry” that can help turn the country toward greener, renewable sources of electricity.

Avangrid, which owns $34 billion in assets, including Central Maine Power, is a subsidiary of Iberdrola, a Spanish energy firm that controls 82% of its stock. The rest is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Iberdrola is the largest wind energy investor in the world, with windmills in the Baltic and North seas providing substantial green energy in Europe.

Kump said offshore wind in America offers plenty of opportunity as well because breezes tend to be stronger and steadier than they are on land.

Indeed, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior figured out that Maine has far more offshore wind potential compared to its need than any state. Massachusetts is second on the list.

Central Maine Power cut a 20-year deal to buy electricity generated by two experimental wind turbines floating 2.5 miles off Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine. It is working with Aqua Ventus, a wind power research project led by the University of Maine.

If it works out, the Aqua Ventus project offers a potential path for Maine to become a wind power kingpin, given the steady offshore breezes that make the Gulf of Maine one of the best spots in the country for the technology.

Kump said that while Maine has “a tremendous opportunity” in the long run to tap wind power, its water depths are such that it will take more work on floating platforms before there’s any sure way to take advantage of it.

“It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

Off the southern coast of Massachusetts, however, the water isn’t as deep, so windmills can be anchored in the sea bottom.

Avangrid’s business is divided in two, with one section focused on renewables and the other on networks, such as CMP. It generates, transmits and distributes electricity, and distributes and sells natural gas.

The company has put an increasing emphasis on developing renewable energy sources, especially wind power, which is mostly onshore but with an eye on capturing a big share of the potentially lucrative offshore wind possibilities in New England.

Map shows where the two planned offshore wind farms would be built if approved by the federal government. Vineyard Wind

The first of two proposed wind farms there, located about 15 miles offshore and barely visible from the beach — “like a little speck out there” on a good day — is nearing the end of a regulatory review process and is likely to be under construction in a year, Kump said.

The other, meant to supply power to Connecticut, will take a bit longer.

The first, Vineyard Wind, would be the first large offshore wind project in the U.S. and is slated to deliver 800 megawatts of electricity once it is up and running.

It will prevent 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, Kump said, the equivalent of taking 325,000 cars off the road.

The Vineyard Wind project is a 50-50 partnership between Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure, a Denmark-based fund management company that has invested about $8 billion, mostly in energy infrastructure projects.

The second project — the 804-megawatt Park City Wind project — was chosen this month by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to supply 14% of Connecticut’s electrical needs.

Kump said that between the Quebec hydropower project and the two wind farms, Avangrid will increase the use of renewable energy by 15% in New England and replace more than 6 million tons of carbon emissions annually with zero emission sources.

It is, he said, “a really, really significant investment” in green energy.

Part of the Central Maine Power transmission line in Chesterville that would be expanded for the New England Clean Energy Connect project. Livermore Falls Advertiser photo by Pam Harnden

Though the power from the projects is contracted to Massachusetts and Connecticut, it ought to help Maine consumers as well.

Because the six New England states are part of a common electrical grid called ISO New England, any power delivered to any of them helps ensure the others have access to the power generated.

The bottom line, Kump said, is that lower cost hydropower from Quebec and wind power from offshore is going to “tend to suppress prices” throughout the region, including Maine, which isn’t paying for any of the work necessary to create or transmit the new power supplies.

The company’s foes doubt Mainers will ever see those promised savings.

Kump, who lived in Maine for 13 years, said his company understands the frustration many Mainers have with CMP and concerns about the hydropower transmission line.

But, he said, if people had better information, they’d see it differently.

Kump said CMP is also doing more to try to lessen the number of blackouts in Maine with “more aggressive tree-trimming” along the “many, many miles of lines through heavily forested areas” and the installation of tougher wires to give the grid more resilience during storms.

“We need to do a better job of getting the facts out there,” Kump said.


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