I recently had the opportunity to meet Senator Susan Collin’s energy policy expert, Amy Carroll. At the meeting was Richard Silkman of GridSolar. There I learned about what GridSolar is up to, and what it’s up against.

GridSolar has submitted an alternative proposal to CMP’s $1.4 billion dollar proposal to increase the transmission corridors in Maine.

Projections show that as demand increases for electricity, Maine will experience brownouts during periods of peak demand over the coming decade. To address this concern, CMP has proposed Bigger Wires to move electricity around the state and avoid problems like brownouts.

These bigger wires would come at a big cost, $1.4 billion on the backs of ratepayers, as well as much wider corridors than today. Perhaps the biggest cost of all is what it is we’re buying into. If we purchase these transmission corridors, we will be compelled to use them. This will result in much less incentive to conserve, to produce our own energy, or to implement smart grid technology.

GridSolar has offered a very interesting alternative. For less money, they’ll ensure that we don’t face rolling brownouts, AND, we’ll get clean, renewable solar electricity out of the deal. Rather than expand transmission facilities, they would install fields of solar electric arrays that would feed into the grid. The beauty of this concept is that maximum solar electricity production roughly matches peak demand (both occur on the sunniest days of the summer), so the solar electricity would not only avoid brownouts, but would also lessen our overall need for fossil fuel electricity.

No one doubts that GridSolar’s plan would result in grid dependability. No one doubts that it’s less expensive. The big challenge with the proposal is that CMP’s proposal would only cost the state 8% of the project total because it would be funded through ISO New England.

While that sounds like a great deal for Mainers, it is a serious problem. True, we only pay 8% of the cost for our transmission upgrades, but we also pay 8% of the cost of Massachusetts’ upgrades. We don’t get to vote on the MA decisions, and MA does not vote on ours. This communist era funding mechanism allows the people who decide to put in transmission capacity to only pay a fraction of the real cost, and it creates a huge incentive to make power lines that no one really needs. As Richard Silkman said; “If every school district were offered 92% funding to put up a Giraffe farm, there would be a Giraffe farm in every district.”

This is crazy. At a time when we need more than ever to invest in renewable energy, conservation, and smart grid technology, the cards are stacked in favor of even bigger wires. Wires that we pay for, ultimately, and that keep us from making the important investments that will keep the lights on AND save the planet. Tell your friends and your elected officials, particularly Snowe and Collins, that we don’t want bigger wires feeding an ever bigger habit, but that now is the time to start weaning ourselves from the habit, every way we can.

UPDATE: We had a chance to interview Dr. Richard Silkman at MABEP’s training conference, Jan 2010.  View the video!