CONCORD, N.H.—Northern New England is turning to the sun, wind and waste wood for clean, renewable power, but there's a serious problem: the threat of gridlock on electricity "highways."
A prime example is New Hampshire's northern Coos County, where there are proposals to build renewable energy plants with roughly 460 megawatts of capacity -- two-thirds of the proposed renewable projects in the state -- to run over a transmission line that can only handle 100 megawatts.
The bottleneck is in Whitefield, the end of a transmission loop that runs through Berlin and Lost Nation.
Projects are approved on a first-come, first-served basis, and the first in line, Noble Environmental Power, stands ready to claim the entire 100 megawatts in 2009 for a wind park. That will leave the other proposals to wither and die if investors, electricity consumers or the government don't spend $200 million to upgrade 100 miles of line.
Even if the money were available now, the upgrade could take six years to complete, presenting investors with another hurdle -- time.
Last month, backers of a proposed 70-megawatt biomass plant in Groveton announced they had had enough, at least for now. Joshua Levine, project developer for Tamarack Energy, a partner in North Country Renewable Energy's plant, said the project is on hold despite the $1 million already spent on it.
The plant would burn wood chips, low-grade wood from logging operations and other clean wood readily available in the economically stressed region.
If we intend to bring new sources on line, we need to upgrade capacity. It's crazy to have $150 billion for economic stimulus on things we don't need and yet be cash starved on projects for which we've articulated a need.