Maine Residents Get $6,000 to Store Wind as Slow Heating

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A collaboration between a wind company and a thermal energy storage company will cut Maine heating bills in half and show the way to a national model for how renewable power can cut dependence on oil.

Oil heats 80% of all homes in Maine. To encourage Maine homeowners to reduce their high exposure to peak oil and climate-changing fossil fuel, the collaborative Highland Wind project proposed by local wind developer Independence Wind will offer any Maine household in the Highland Plantation area near its wind farm a $6,000 “wind for oil” grant, that it can use to green the grid, according to Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

The money would fund the purchase of an Electric Thermal Storage (ETS) “off-peak heating” unit from the local thermal energy storage company Steffes, which is partnering with Independence Wind to store the off-peak electricity the wind farm will produce at night. However, participating households could elect to spend the grant money on any renewable energy or energy efficiency investment. But thermal storage would be the best.

The Steffes ETS units are an ideal match with wind power storage. They use lower-cost off-peak electric power to heat dense ceramic bricks which are stored in a specially insulated cabinet.  This heat is then available for use throughout the 24 hour day for home heating. Space-age insulation keeps the exterior from heating above 160 degrees F, and enough is stored inside the units to provide 24 hours of gradual warmth on demand.  Both Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro offer deeply discounted ETS rates for the delivery of this off-peak power.

In return for the storage, Highland Wind will supply wind electricity to Highland residents at a discounted cost which will be equivalent to about $1.15 per gallon of oil, well below the current $3.00 per gallon price in the area for heating oil. Their 39 turbines will produce approximately 325 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which is equal to the combined production of all the hydro dams on the main stem of the Penobscot River and represents the amount of electricity used by about 44,000 Maine households.

But what is a great wind power project without its haters? To appease the local clean energy hate group, the 48 turbine project was reduced by 25% by removing 9 turbines in closest proximity to the Appalachian Trail and the Bigelow Preserve, so that the remaining 39 turbines will be more than eight miles from any likely viewpoints. This makes the turbines appear less than a half inch tall as seen from viewpoints along the trail. They also reduced new access roads by more than 30%, and will be providing $750,000 for land conservation.

“We have been meeting with representatives of the Trail community for more than two years in connection with this project, and the removal of these particular turbines were always their first concern,” said Rob Gardiner, president of Independence Wind.

“We felt that this is the right compromise between the pressing need to build good projects which substitute renewable power for fossil fuels and the concerns of those who believed the original project would harm the recreational experience on the Trail and at Bigelow.”

“We’re really excited about this idea, ” said Angus King, a former Governor of Maine, and one of the principals of Independence Wind, a partner in the development of the project.”Maine is one of the most oil dependent states in the country and a huge portion of this oil is used to heat homes. We want to demonstrate here that we can replace that oil–not a drop of which comes from within Maine–with locally produced wind power which can be supplied at a long-term predictable price. This is better for the environment and is an insurance policy against the constant rise in oil prices.”

The local jobs aspect doesn’t look too bad either. The project is estimated to cost over $210 million, most of which will go directly into the Maine economy through engineering, environmental, construction, and related jobs. At the peak of construction, the project will bring over 300 jobs to the local region during the construction period. In addition, every year, the project will pay more than $500,000 in state, local, and county taxes.

The green jobs have already begun, according to Patrick Graham, Director of Renewable Energy Services at the engineering firm James Sewall.

He says that at least six Maine companies have been involved in the development of the Highland Wind permit applications, including numerous environmental scientists, engineers, soil scientists and other professionals. “At Sewall, projects like Highland Wind help support teams of engineers, project managers and technicians for up to two years at a time” he said.

This is the second project to pair off-peak night time wind power and Steffes ETS units to store distributed off-peak electricity. The first was earlier this year.

Image: Deby Dixon

Related stories:
Is Distributed Thermal Storage Next?
100% Wind-Powered Island off Maine

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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