A Maine state legislative committee will take up a microgrid bill on Tuesday that would allow communities to develop microgrids in cooperation with utilities.
The legislation came out of exploration by an informal citizens energy group with “a vision to use energy as a force for good that improves lives and transforms communities,” said Rep. Michael Devin, a Democrat from New Castle. “They’re focused on a new way of doing business to meet the needs of customers,” he said in written testimony.
Still in concept form, the bipartisan bill would address use of renewable energy and energy storage within microgrids, along with utility management of the stored power. It also will consider microgrid rates, credits for customers or municipalities, and utility load shedding contracts designed to reduce ratepayer costs.
In Vermont, Green Mountain Power made news last year when its Stafford Hills microgrid saved $200,000 by using its solar and battery storage to reduce demand during the exact hour that New England hit its annual peak.
Devin said that Green Mountain Power offers an excellent example of how Maine might move forward on energy policy, “particularly via the establishment of microgrids.”
Jim Cohen, a lobbyist for the Maine’s largest utility, Emera, said in testimony that the utility is neither for nor against the microgrid bill because it still lacks details.
“Microgrids will offer some interesting opportunities for utilities and our customers. For example, microgrids in future could provide local reliability benefits during outage situations, which could be particularly advantageous for critical load customers such as hospitals, military bases, and public safety facilities,” he said.
He added that in some circumstances, microgrids could allow a utility to defer investments in local transmission or distribution capacity.
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“The question is at what point in time, and in what situations, will they be cost-effective — and who should pay for those benefits that are location specific or even customer specific,” he said in written testimony.
Summit Natural Gas, a natural gas delivery company, said it supports microgrids, noting that they can increase efficiency, reduce costs, promote reliability for customers, and spur jobs and investment opportunities. However, company lobbyist James Cote challenged the bill for not addressing use of natural gas in microgrids.
Cote cited Princeton University’s microgrid as a best-in-class example of a microgrid that pairs solar and combined heat and power (which often uses natural gas) to reduce carbon footprint, increase reliability, and benefit ratepayers by feeding excess electricity back into to the grid when demand is high and electricity prices rise.
“In fact, one unintended result of this microgrid has been an added revenue stream for the school because of its ability to sell its excess electricity back onto the grid on peak days,” he said.
Angela Monroe, acting director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said in testimony that Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, opposes the microgrid bill because it “appears likely to increase electric rates.” She added that it was difficult to fully evaluate the proposal because it is still in concept form.
Bill co-sponsors include Democrats, Sen. Dave Miramant, Sen. Ben Chipman, Rep. Seth Berry, Rep. Martin Grohman, Rep. Deane Rykerson, Rep. Ryan Tipping; Republicans Rep. Lance Evans Harvell, Rep. William Tuell; and Rep. Walter Kumiega, an Independent.
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