Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Entrepreneur: Solar better than plan for power lines

Sun Journal

By Scott Taylor , Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

LEWISTON - Solar power could be an alternative to Central Maine Power Co.'s proposed $1.5 billion expansion program, councilors were told Tuesday

Energy consultant Mark Isaacson of Competitive Energy Solutions in Portland outlined his plan for a distributed solar grid that could supply electrical power to Lewiston during peak times - just like CMP's expansion program.

The difference, Isaacson said, is that solar energy makes sense for the future.

"The (CMP) power reliability program is based on 1960s assumptions and technology," Isaacson said. "But a lot has changed and those assumptions are outdated."

According to Isaacson, communities in Central Maine would get electrical solar panels at sites around their communities. Each farm site would be able to generate up to two megawatts of electrical power, and up to 500 megawatts for the entire community.

That electrical power would be used to bolster the existing electrical grid during high demand periods, especially during hot summer days when people are using air conditioners.

"What we find is that the high electrical demand periods and the high solar electrical generation periods are about the same time - when the sun is hottest," Isaacson said.

Each community solar grid would have smaller natural gas or propane powered generators as a backup. Together, it would make CMP's Maine Power Reliability Program unnecessary, he said.

CMP's proposal calls for upgrading a nearly 40-year-old swath of power lines. The lines start south in Eliot and pass through central Maine in Litchfield, Monmouth, Leeds, Greene, Lewiston and a corner of Auburn at the Durham line. They stop in Orrington, where they connect to lines from Canada.

It's designed to make sure there is enough electricity for Central Maine's growing communities, Isaacson said.

He vowed to beat CMP's price, saying the solar grid utility would agree to sell electricity for three cents per kilowatt-hour. The market rate is currently between eight and 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Tuesday's presentation was one of several Isaacson is making to cities, towns and businesses in the area. He hopes to take the proposal to the Maine Public Utilities Commission later this year.

Councilors were skeptical, especially of the price.

"I just find it hard to believe that you would be able to sell us electricity below the market rate," Councilor Bob Reed said. "I'm an accountant, and something about this just doesn't make sense."

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