The staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission is recommending that a Portland company’s proposal to coordinate part of the state’s alternative energy supply process be rejected.

The PUC staff wants the commission to instead put the coordinator’s role out to bid.

At issue is whether Maine’s existing power transmission infrastructure can be enhanced without building additional miles of transmission lines.

GridSolar proposed that it become the state coordinator of non-transmission alternatives based largely on its experience with an ongoing pilot project in the midcoast, which it says is a less costly alternative to a Central Maine Power Co. plan to beef up the state’s electric grid by building more miles of transmission lines. GridSolar’s pilot project in Boothbay uses solar and other forms of alternative energy generation to provide local electricity during high-demand periods that can be carried on existing transmission lines.

GridSolar says its non-transmission alternative approach is a more flexible and less expensive way to meet the need for short-term electricity supply increases than costly upgrades to the power grid.

The staff opinion is based on GridSolar’s proposal to act as a coordinator for non-transmission alternatives – or NTAs – when they are proposed for other parts of the state beyond the midcoast pilot project. Proposals to build NTAs are under consideration in the Portland and Waterville areas.

The staff report, issued Friday, agrees that a coordinator is needed but suggests that GridSolar’s corporate structure may be top-heavy.

The report said the staff isn’t sure that the six full-time executive positions proposed by GridSolar, “as well as several other staffing positions, are necessary for developing and implementing NTA solutions.”

GridSolar CEO Richard Silkman said the company’s experience operating an NTA in Boothbay gives it an edge that other companies can’t match. The company has applied to be named the Smart Grid coordinator for the state and submitted a five-year implementation plan for rolling out other NTAs.

CMP doesn’t necessarily object to the need for a coordinator but thinks the PUC shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a utility playing that role, company spokesman John Carroll said.

CMP and other transmission companies are barred from generating electricity under Maine’s electricity deregulation laws, but Carroll said the PUC should consider relaxing that rule for NTAs. He said the ultimate goal is to provide electricity at a lower cost, and having CMP or other transmission companies operating small generation projects in places where an NTA is approved could make economic sense.

In any case, Carroll said GridSolar’s approach “is a little untimely” because its pilot project in Boothbay won’t be complete for another two years. Determining that NTAs are the best approach for a more reliable and less costly electricity supply should be determined before the PUC looks for a coordinator, he said.

The PUC will take comments on the staff report until Feb. 27 and probably will meet to vote on the GridSolar plan in March, said Harry Lanphear, administrative director of the PUC.


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