Grassroots Push for Microgrid on Maine Island

Jan. 12, 2020
A grassroot non-profit group is hoping to build on ENMAX’s pending purchase of Emera Maine to create a microgrid on Mount Desert Island. The Maine island is committed to being “energy independent” by 2020 and its four towns have taken major steps to reach that goal.

A Maine-based non-profit group is hoping to build on ENMAX’s pending purchase of Emera Maine to create a microgrid on Mount Desert Island (MDI).

The group — A Climate to Thrive (ACTT) — intervened late in the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s review of the proposed deal.

The grassroots organization hoped that ENMAX would agree to support a microgrid project on Mount Desert island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge.

Coast of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Photo by vagabond54/Shutterstock.com

“ACTT seeks to develop a ‘Freedom Lab’ to implement cutting-edge technology, modulate demand through storage and flexible loads, encourage beneficial electrification, explore transactive energy, and manage rapidly increasing distributed energy resources as MDI’s local generation achieves a greater and greater share of its electricity needs,” the group said in comments filed with the PUC.

The group recommended that Emera Maine’s sale be conditioned on ENMAX agreeing to put in place a “significantly-sized” microgrid as a demonstration project and financial and technical support for low-income households for energy efficiency retrofits and solar and renewable energy installations.

Island bracing for climate change

A microgrid could help address power outages that are becoming more common because of climate change, according to ACTT.

“Pro-active experimentation with microgrids that can ‘island’ under outage conditions and improve grid management at all times is now warranted,” the group told the PUC.

Because of its late intervention into the case, a settlement agreement was reached among key stakeholders that didn’t include ACTT’s requests, according to Ken Colburn, a board member of the group and a principal with the Regulatory Assistance Project.

Even so, the group has had discussions with ENMAX and the intervention in the case served as a “relationship building step,” Colburn said.

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Mount Desert Island makes an ideal spot for testing out a microgrid, according to Coburn.

It has a small population that is amenable to solar power, Coburn said, noting the island has a 16 MW summer peak load and a 9 MW winter peak.

Since 2017, ACTT has tripled the island’s photovoltaic capacity to about 2 MW and the organization has hired a solar manager to help double it this year and double it again in 2021, according to the organization. 

The island is committed to being “energy independent” by 2020 and its four towns have taken major steps to reach that goal, according to Colburn. Energy storage may play a role in the solar expansion, he said.

Awaiting closing on ENMAX deal

Discussions with ENMAX, based in Calgary, Alberta, on a possible microgrid will likely heat up once it closes on the deal to buy Bangor, Me.-based Emera Maine, Colburn said. The transaction is expected to close early this year.

ACTT’s solar manager, Bryan Carroll, previously served as general manager for Isle au Haut Electric Power, which is setting up a microgrid on its island. The microgrid on the island about seven miles from the mainland will include solar panels, air-to-water heat pumps, and thermal storage.

Meanwhile, Maine lawmakers are considering a microgrid bill that was carried over from the last legislative session. The bill (L.D. 13) directs the PUC to approve microgrids of up to 10 MW if the agency deems them to be in the public interest.

The bill clarifies that a new microgrid does not become a public utility by providing electrical service to participating consumers.

The bill is pending in the Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

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About the Author

Ethan Howland

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