Tom Saviello

Imagine you decided to buy an electric car. You scoped out all your options and picked one. You check with Central Maine Power  on how much extra money you would need to spend to make sure the outlet at your house is adequate to charge the vehicle.

CMP tells you “No problem, your connection is adequate.”

So, you go to the bank, get your loan and buy the car.

Upon returning home you get a call from CMP. You think they are calling to say congratulations on doing your small part to reduce climate change. Instead, CMP says “We made a mistake; your fixture cannot safely handle this new demand. You need to pay us an undetermined amount of money to make upgrades, and we don’t know how long this upgrade will take.”

You are totally disillusioned. The extra cost CMP wants to charge you stops your small, but important effort to impact climate change.

Well, CMP recently did just that to Maine’s solar industry. This industry has been developing projects at more than 100 substations across CMP’s territory. After signing contracts with CMP and entering into formal agreements, many of these developers made down payments to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still other companies, relying on the fact that CMP actually understands their infrastructure, constructed solar farms worth tens of millions of dollars. They, like your electric car, are ready to “plug” in to the substation. But CMP is now saying “Oops, we made a mistake, the substation upgrades you funded for this project actually weren’t adequate to meet our standards, so you have to pay more money or we won’t allow you to connect to our customers.”

How much money, do you ask? CMP’s miscalculations could cost the solar industry over $100 million. In some cases, according to estimates by solar developers, the increased cost could be more than the total cost of the total facility.

It may very well shutter projects that would add electricity to the grid at a much lower cost than the power they want to deliver on their unpopular New England Clean Energy Connect project, providing electricity to Massachusetts. According to the Public Utilities Commission, a number of these projects would only charge 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, or about 50% on the ratepayer’s monthly electric bill.

This, along with thousands of jobs and an estimated $500 million investment in Maine could all be lost, thanks to Spanish-owned CMP’s incompetency.

Unfortunately, this new development is shocking, but it isn’t surprising. This is, after all, the Spanish company that cannot get its billing straight. It has smart meters that are “dumb.” It has had over 20 major outages last year alone. It sent illegal shut off notices, and for the last three years has ranked last among power utilities by JD Power. Nobody can trust them.

In Maine’s Climate Council Report Gov. Janet Mills wrote “Maine can’t wait to strengthen our economy by investing in renewable-energy infrastructure and providing good-paying jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency.” The ambitious goals to increase renewable energy set by the governor cannot be met.

The Clean Energy Economy Report noted “In June 2019, Governor Mills signed legislation into law increasing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) from 40 percent to 80 percent by 2030 and setting a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050. Maine’s new RPS obligation is considered one of the most ambitious in the country and certainly reflects the most ambitious 2030 target in New England.”

This same report said “Solar development, both utility scale and smaller distributed energy generation, present economic development opportunities. These projects can provide various benefits to their host communities, provide energy cost savings, develop community solar projects with cost savings to project subscribers, and create cost savings to taxpayers through municipal or state projects.”

It’s safe to say these investments cannot be met with Maine solar development blown off course by a foreign corporation that can’t, or won’t, stay true to its word.

Finally, CMP acts as if this capacity issue is a new problem. It is not.

Maybe we would not be here today if CMP focused on bringing its Maine infrastructure into the 21st century instead of constructing the New England Clean Energy Connect. CMP is more interested in using Maine as an extension cord to make billions off a contract between Massachusetts and Hydro-Quebec than providing reliable service to its existing customers right here in Maine.

It is time for CMP to clean up its act, keep its promises, and fix its many problems.

Tom Saviello holds a Ph.D. in forest resources and is a former state senator for Franklin County. He presently serves as a selectperson in Wilton.

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, a day after Gov. Janet Mills asked the PUC to investigate why solar operators were told they were going to have to pay extra to connect to the grid, CMP told regulators that it had found faster and less costly ways to fix the problem. The cost is now estimated by CMP to be “below $40 million.”

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