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Wind expert: Maine needs transmission upgrades

Oct 6, Glenn Adams - The Associated Press

A wind energy expert on Tuesday added his voice to those who say upgrading Maine's power transmission system is critical for the state to reach its wind-power potential.

Larry Flowers of the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy laboratory addressed about 300 people attending Maine's first Wind Energy Conference, which closely followed the state's first overseas trade mission dedicated exclusively to wind power.

Flowers said that while Maine leads New England with 95 percent of the region's installed wind power, New England lags behind the rest of the nation in generation of wind energy. New England's governors have endorsed a plan calling for up to one-third of the region's electric power to come from wind by 2030.

But for Maine to reach its potential, its power transmission system will have to be upgraded to get the power to the rest of the regional market, said Flowers. Maine is not unusual in this regard, said Flowers, who called it "a sticking point everywhere."

Gov. John Baldacci, who opened Tuesday's daylong conference and also led the late-September trade mission to Europe, agreed that making Maine a viable supplier of power from wind and other renewable energy sources must go hand-in-hand with transmission line upgrades. Central Maine Power Co., the state's largest electric utility, is proposing a $1.4 billion upgrade of its transmission system.

"I'm convinced people are realizing that if you're going to produce energy, you have to have a way to transmit it," Baldacci said in an interview. He said there's "a sense of urgency to act" created by midwestern states' plan to sharply expand wind power and other renewable sources and try to sell excess power to the Northeast.

That could scuttle ambitious efforts to develop wind power in Maine, which has a goal of 2,000 megawatts of installed wind power capacity by 2015, said Baldacci. In his opening address to the conference, Baldacci said wind power brings "tremendous opportunities" to Maine businesses and workers.

"What I don't want," he said, "is missing those opportunities."

The conference drew about a dozen demonstrators who carried signs outside the Augusta Civic Center.

A leader, Steve Thurston of Roxbury, where a wind farm is under construction, said erecting all the windmills needed to meet Maine's long-term goals would require 1,800 towers along 360 miles of mountain ridges. He said it would have a "devastating" impact on the mountains and mar the view.

Thurston, who called wind power "big business forcing itself on the people of the state," said he would prefer to see the state achieve energy independence through conservation.

Maine has two major wind farms in operation, three under construction and several others in planning stages.