Will Maine Ratepayers Benefit from Wind Power?

Augusta — Wind power is coming to Maine –  in a big way. While that’s potentially good news for investors and environmentalists looking for clean, renewable and abundant  energy, it will not be broadly beneficial to Maine ratepayers without significant shifts in policy.  Megawatts from Mountain Tops: What’s in it for Maine?  is a new two-part series from the Maine Center for Economic Policy authored by Senator Peter Mills (R) of Skowhegan.  ” In a dozen years, the free power that blows across our ridge tops may be equal in scale to 2/3 of Maine’s total electrical load,” states Mills.  “It is an unprecedented opportunity, but only if we make important changes enabling Maine people to capture those benefits.”
Although Maine already generates more power than it needs, the price we pay is tied to the broader New England market; we pay nearly the same for electricity as do consumers in Connecticut who have the highest costs in the nation. Because Maine is  sandwiched between 6 cent power to our north and a 10 cent market to our south, that price gap creates pressure to build transmission to move electricity from northern generators to southern customers. Maine is the place for new transmission and new generators to be built,  but will it help us? Megawatts from Mountain Tops provides a historical perspective on our current utility grid and its regulatory overlays; it makes the case that we must must change Maine’s intertwined policies on electric power, taxation and economic development to really ‘catch the wind.’
1. Maine should continue to explore getting out of the Independent System Operator for New England (ISO-NE) in 2010 unless acceptable reforms can be agreed to before renewing our contracts for another five years.
2. In determining the scope of new transmission to be allowed, Maine’s Public Utilities Commission must be wary of costs.  The utilities are motivated by federal incentives to spend as much as possible.
3. Generators in Aroostook County and Canada should participate in paying for the 200-mile Maine Power Connection from northern to central Maine. The ratepayers of New England should not be saddled with the entire cost of building a line that serves primarily a single corporation.
4.  Generators who want to build in Maine should be required to sign long term bilateral contracts for the benefit of Maine consumers through the standard offer.
5.  Maine needs to revamp its tax policies on wind power and the connecting transmission lines.  The property tax is a clumsy way to extract value from Maine’s wind power advantage.  An excise tax makes better sense.

6.  The Tax Increment Financing law (TIF)  should be significantly amended as it applies to the Unorganized Territories and to the isolated adjacent communities. Rural towns should have flexibility to spend TIF revenue on all forms of development consistent with the Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) Comprehensive Plan.

To read the report:

Megawatts from Mountain Tops: What’s in it for Maine? Part 1, Power to Rely On

Megawatts from Mountain Tops: What’s in it for Maine? Part 2, Capturing the Wind

About the Author
Peter Mills is a Skowhegan attorney who has served as a Republican member of the Maine Legislature for 14 years, 12 of them in the Senate. He is presently the Senate Republican lead on the Education Committee and has prior service on five other committees: Appropriations, Taxation, Labor, Insurance and Judiciary.  His prior writing on education, tax and pension policies may be found at petermills.info

The author may be reached for comments at : 207 858-6400 or pmills@mainelegal.net