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Power grid bill pros and cons aired for panel

AUGUSTA -- A bill that allows the Maine Public Utilities Commission to pull Maine out of the New England power grid won endorsements from several large manufacturers at a legislative hearing Wednesday, but opponents warned that it could hurt Maine consumers in the long run.

Maine is now battling with southern New England over a rate increase to be imposed later this year by ISO New England, which manages the flow of electricity on the region's 8,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. The not-for-profit agency also oversees the region's wholesale electricity market.

The increase would cost Maine electricity users $300 million to $400 million over the next four to five years. It is a payout to power companies so they'll stop legal challenges to a new system for expanding the region's electrical capacity, according to Kurt Adams, chairman of the commission.

Maine generators today produce 30 percent to 40 percent more energy than Maine needs. But the new investment is earmarked for southern New England, particularly Connecticut, where demand far exceeds supply.

Yet Maine faces the highest rate hike because deregulation has made it harder for the state to blunt the impact of the rate increase.

Rep. Peter Rines, D-Wiscasset, said he's so angry he's ready to go to the state border and cut the transmission lines himself.

"Now is the time to be independent and go it alone," said Rines, a member of the Legislature's Utilities and Energy Committee, which held... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
Maine is now battling with southern New England over a rate increase to be imposed later this year by ISO New England, which manages the flow of electricity on the region's 8,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. The not-for-profit agency also oversees the region's wholesale electricity market.

The increase would cost Maine electricity users $300 million to $400 million over the next four to five years. It is a payout to power companies so they'll stop legal challenges to a new system for expanding the region's electrical capacity, according to Kurt Adams, chairman of the commission.

Maine generators today produce 30 percent to 40 percent more energy than Maine needs. But the new investment is earmarked for southern New England, particularly Connecticut, where demand far exceeds supply.

Yet Maine faces the highest rate hike because deregulation has made it harder for the state to blunt the impact of the rate increase.

Rep. Peter Rines, D-Wiscasset, said he's so angry he's ready to go to the state border and cut the transmission lines himself.

"Now is the time to be independent and go it alone," said Rines, a member of the Legislature's Utilities and Energy Committee, which held Wednesday's public hearing on the proposal.

But being part of a regional grid system spreads risks among a larger pool and gives Maine consumers long-term protection and stability, said Dan Allegretti of Maryland-based Constellation Energy, one of the nation's largest wholesale power sellers.

"Maine is helping its neighbors today, but in the future it will be looking for help as well," he told the committee.

If Maine pulls out of the grid, state legislators in Boston and Hartford would end agreements that subsidize the development of wind power and biomass generators in Maine, warned Dave Wilby, executive director of Independent Energy Producers of Maine.

Officials from ISO New England said a cost-benefit analysis shows that Maine is better off being part of the New England grid rather than standing alone or joining with the grid in Maritime Canada.

"We believe there are a lot of economies of scale that states benefit from in sharing the resource," said Ellen Foley, spokes-woman for ISO New England.

Representatives from National Semiconductor, Lincoln Paper and Tissue and Huhtamaki Packaging said Maine's high electricity costs put manufacturers here at a disadvantage when competing with plants in other states. Union leaders also spoke in favor of the bill because they say high power costs could force many people out of work.

Rep. John Brautigam, D-Falmouth, who sponsored the bill, said he's not sure that leaving the regional power grid is the answer to lowering high electricity rates, but it needs to be considered.

"Many millions of dollars are at stake, and our economic prosperity may be on the line," he said. "If we continue to participate in this regional system without asking whether it serves our long-term interests, we will have abdicated an important responsibility."

The committee is scheduled to take up the bill again at 1 p.m. today.

Source: http://kennebecjournal.main...

FEB 16 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1327-power-grid-bill-pros-and-cons-aired-for-panel
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