Article

CMP grid plan offers wrong solution

Central Maine Power says it has a severe reliability problem. No doubt it does, but the issue is CMP's credibility, not a failing electrical grid. Yes, the grid always needs improvements and updating. But Maine shouldn't drop all other energy priorities and immediately spend $1.5 billion on CMP's so-called Maine Power Reliability Project (MPRP). And for those grid investments that are necessary, CMP's strategy is entirely backwards: They are proposing to start with the most expensive (and dirtiest) option first.

While a "smart" grid is needed, CMP will profit from maintaining a "dumb" one, at ratepayers' expense.

Central Maine Power says it has a severe reliability problem. No doubt it does, but the issue is CMP's credibility, not a failing electrical grid.

Yes, the grid always needs improvements and updating. But Maine shouldn't drop all other energy priorities and immediately spend $1.5 billion on CMP's so-called Maine Power Reliability Project (MPRP). And for those grid investments that are necessary, CMP's strategy is entirely backwards: They are proposing to start with the most expensive (and dirtiest) option first.

To con the state into blowing its energy budget on this unnecessary construction project, CMP executives have launched an all-out fear campaign, warning that Maine's 40-year-old electrical grid is on the verge of failure and that our economy will wither and die if we don't immediately build 350 miles of new power lines and substation upgrades.

Not true. Maine's electrical grid is nowhere near close to failure or capacity. And, although the original infrastructure was built in the 1970s, CMP continuously upgrades and replaces lines and substation equipment. (The money for these... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

While a "smart" grid is needed, CMP will profit from maintaining a "dumb" one, at ratepayers' expense.

Central Maine Power says it has a severe reliability problem. No doubt it does, but the issue is CMP's credibility, not a failing electrical grid.

Yes, the grid always needs improvements and updating. But Maine shouldn't drop all other energy priorities and immediately spend $1.5 billion on CMP's so-called Maine Power Reliability Project (MPRP). And for those grid investments that are necessary, CMP's strategy is entirely backwards: They are proposing to start with the most expensive (and dirtiest) option first.

To con the state into blowing its energy budget on this unnecessary construction project, CMP executives have launched an all-out fear campaign, warning that Maine's 40-year-old electrical grid is on the verge of failure and that our economy will wither and die if we don't immediately build 350 miles of new power lines and substation upgrades.

Not true. Maine's electrical grid is nowhere near close to failure or capacity. And, although the original infrastructure was built in the 1970s, CMP continuously upgrades and replaces lines and substation equipment. (The money for these upgrades is built into our electrical rates.)

SNOW JOB

So, what's really going on here? Rather than reliability, this project appears to be driven by new federal rules that allow CMP a 12 percent to 14 percent return on total project costs for new and upgraded high-voltage transmission lines. If the MPRP is built, CMP's profits will go from $60 million in 2007 to about $150 million in 2012, with zero risk to stockholders.

It's also a total snow job. Here are the major flaws in CMP's proposal:

First, CMP's load forecasts are wrong. As the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) staff recently concluded, CMP used "excessively high" load forecasts, overstating the need and accelerating the timing for new transmission investments. The truth is that peak electric load is actually declining in Maine, due to the overwhelming success of our investments in electrical efficiency and to fundamental structural changes in our economy.

Second, CMP used faulty planning criteria. CMP says it used "mandatory" industry standards, but the PUC staff concluded the opposite.

The PUC staff found that CMP's excessive forecasts were based on a "methodological change" compared to previous studies that is not used by other utility planners and that resulted in exaggerated demand.

The PUC staff also found that CMP's study included "arbitrary," "ad-hoc," and "extreme worst case" planning scenarios that were "inconsistent" with many of ISO-New England's normal planning methods and exaggerated the need for transmission upgrades.

CMP's high-pressure "do-it-all-now" sales approach misstates regional planning rules. CMP says we must build the entire $1.5 billion MPRP now or lose ability to share costs among all the northeastern states. That's false. ISO-NE planning processes allow phased scheduling, so that certain sections of the MPRP can be built only if and when they are needed.

In truth, Maine has plenty of time to design its future grid. And as we do, we should focus on building a smarter grid, not a bigger "dumb" grid.

Maine can meet future electric load growth for far less money - and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions - by matching electric supply to demand, and vice versa. A smart system would also allow us to direct grid investments to least costly solutions first, starting with efficiency, and then moving through a mix of demand management, improved bulk energy transfers and system management, and distributed generation, including both renewable solar energy and mini-power plants. New transmission lines are also an option, but because they are so expensive, they should be the last resort - not the starting point.

SMARTS NEEDED

In contrast to building new power lines we may never need, building a smarter grid is a must for Maine's energy future. Real time information and control are fundamental to our ability to optimize the grid, target our energy efficiency investments, add renewable wind and solar energy, and use new technologies. Without a smart grid, Maine cannot balance the introduction of large scale but intermittent renewable energy - wind, solar, and tidal - into the grid, or integrate electric vehicles to charge at night when demand is low and release stored energy into the grid during peak hours when demand is high.

This smart grid is not just theoretical. Our company, GridSolar LLC, has intervened with the PUC to provide a smart grid alternative to all or a significant portion of the MPRP. This smart grid plan is cheaper, cleaner and would provide more long-term jobs for Maine's economy.

But don't expect CMP to ever support it. CMP and its shareholders get paid by the kilowatt - the bigger the grid and the more energy we use (or waste), the higher their profits.

If Maine wants energy independence, we must have an independent operator of the smart grid. We cannot rely on CMP, a private company, to do what is not in its best financial interests to do.

Steve Hinchman is director of development and public affairs for Grid Solar LLC.


Source: http://pressherald.mainetod...

JAN 10 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/24068-cmp-grid-plan-offers-wrong-solution
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