Maine’s top utility regulators are launching a new effort to prepare Maine’s electricity supply and distribution systems for a major transformation. It’s all about accommodating the fast-arriving age of renewable energy, which is already causing some serious growing pains.
The changes in Maine’s energy systems in an effort to “decarbonize” the economy puts a new premium on power sources that don’t pollute. The PUC has indicated that it is just the beginning of a very difficult transition that they will be forced to make if the State plans to electrify heating and transportation sectors.
Maine’s existing electric grid was mostly built decades ago to accommodate big power generators like hydroelectric dams, oil- and gas-fired plants and nuclear stations.
The Commission, its staff and outside consultants are looking at a comprehensive analysis of the existing system, and then modeling what modernization would look like — what changes in design, infrastructure and policy would make it more flexible and reliable, as well as where the money will come from.
Previously there had been resistance from former Governor Paul LePage. Governor Janet Mills and the Legislature enacted a number of policy incentives and power procurements to encourage the development of dispersed renewable energy projects in Maine. With this there was more interest in solar power projects.
There have been some successes, but also warning flags, such as a commission report estimating potentially major bill hikes for electricity consumers. More recently, with the report from Central Maine Power that revised up by millions of dollars its assessment of what it will cost to upgrade its transmission systems to facilitate getting that energy onto the grid.