City Councilor Valli Geiger said she is "as green as they come," and she favors locating a natural gas power plant on the present City Hall and public works garage property.

She listed several benefits Rockland Energy Center LLC would bring to Rockland, including:

– $500,000 to $700,000 in annual property tax revenue to the city;

– 12 to 18 well-paying jobs;

– $200 million in construction spending to get the plant up and running;

– Bringing a natural gas pipeline to Rockland, which she said would attract business development;

– REC would build a new City Hall at no cost to taxpayers.

"So to me, from a green perspective, I'm comfortable with it," Geiger said. "From a Rockland perspective, I'm comfortable with it. On a location perspective, I'm comfortable with it."

Benefits

The tax revenue the plant will bring in is exactly what the council had to cut from the budget this year, she said.

Geiger said the people hired at the plant would live here and contribute to the local economy. She said bringing natural gas to the city is the best way to attract business. "It's a huge selling point to have a more affordable energy source than oil," she said.

The councilor said she favors having the plant use the City Hall site, rather than the industrial park or the city dump. "We would finally be able to move City Hall back to town, which I happen to think is the right thing to do," she said. "It never seemed right to me that our City Hall requires a car to access, and that it was outside of town. That's always bothered me."

Would residents be able to utilize natural gas for heating homes?

Geiger said she did not know if that would make sense. While cities all over Europe have been using natural gas this way, she said, the energy world is changing and it may cost more to hook up to gas than to buy a heat pump.

Businesses would be able to tap into the natural gas, she said.

Would it lower electric bills in the city?

"I don't think so," she said. "…As far as I know, CMP has already agreed to a 15-year contract with them."

She said CMP has absolutely no interest in negotiating with towns, even though it would cost the company less to provide electricity to Rockland if the power were generated right here.

"If I look at the long view, they've already locked up a contract for 15 years," she said. "At the end of that, there's another 35 years of life in the plant. To me, … there's our time to negotiate with whoever owns that plant." She said the city could say at that time, "We would like to buy electricity at this many kilowatts."

Environmental concerns

Geiger noted that she has a master's degree in sustainable design from the Boston Architectural College, and has studied issues including sustainable living and climate change.

The plant being proposed, a small combined heat and energy plant using natural gas, is considered green, she argued. Combined heat and energy plants capture the heat that is created in generating electricity and use that that energy as well, she said, increasing their efficiency.

Geiger will push to negotiate that, as part of the deal, the water used at the plant will be the gray water from the city's sewer plant, helping reduce any waste of water.

Opening this plant would mean closing a few coal plants, and Geiger argued the best thing that can be done to combat climate change is to shut down coal plants worldwide. Natural gas is seen as a transition fuel.

"The only real issue to me is local pollution, and the moral dilemma around fracking," she said. "Those I think are legitimate. Everything else, I think, is a win for Rockland."

It has been previously reported that some of the natural gas that would supply the power plant would be obtained by hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a controversial technique of drilling down into the earth and using water at high power to break up shale and release gas.

The fracking would not occur locally. It is carried out in other states and has been criticized for wasting water, creating pollution and causing small earthquakes.

Geiger said that before she voted on the plant, she would want to know more about the source pollution and how that would compare with all of Main Street going off oil and using steam heat. The drawbacks may be offset by the benefits from an environmental perspective.

Safety

Geiger argued these plants are safe, noting small power plants are routinely located on hospital and college campuses. Colby College, for example, had a combined heat and energy plant on its campus that was, until recently, oil fired. It's now a biomass plant, she said.

Pipeline

Geiger said there are three possible routes for the proposed natural gas pipeline to serve the plant.

"All last summer they were bringing it down to Windsor, so the most direct route is straight to Rockland along route 17," she said. However, she added, many coastal towns are interested in having natural gas, so it may go from Windsor to Belfast and up Route 1 or through Searsmont and Camden.

"I know Rockport wants it," she said.

She disagreed with those who argue there will be large storage tanks if the pipeline is not built. She said this plant would be served by the pipeline.

Concerns raised about eminent domain are a red herring, she argued. "Can I guarantee not a single house will be lost? No, I can't." However, she said, the pipeline is not massive in size. She has seen it being put in and it is small and the city and CMP already have an easement along the roadways they can use for the pipeline.

"I am bemused by the people who say that's the gateway to our city," she added, concerning the City Hall location. "You drive by a cement plant and a huge quarry, and this will be off to the right and off the road."

She added that the city will be able to require green landscaping to screen the plant.

Geiger also responded to the argument that a lot of changes have come quickly to the city in the past few months. City Hall and the Public Works garage were put up for sale, the Recreation Center has been cut as a city department and will be privatized, and several budget cuts were made in city services, not to mention the coming of the proposed power plant.

"It doesn't matter who is on City Council, or who is city manager, Rockland is going through huge transition," she said. "I expect the change to come faster. We're on the map now."

City Councilor Larry Pritchett responds:

Amount of Potential Tax Revenue?

The article suggests the amount of potential new tax revenue from the project would be on the same scale ($500,000 to $600,000) as the budget reductions City Council just made. A variety of technical factors go into developing the value of power generation equipment, but the numbers in the article are off by almost a factor of 10.

City’s total valuation is currently $780,079,200 (i.e., $780 Million)

EMI/REC Project could add up to $200,000,000 (i.e., $200 Million) to City’s Valuation

Project could potentially increase the taxable value of the City by up to 26%

$200 Million of new taxable value could bring in up to $4 Million in additional/new property tax revenue

(i.e. up to $2 Million in local tax revenue for RSU13 school system & up to $1.7 Million in local tax revenue to City Government)

The above revenue values assume the FY2015 mill rate of $20.16/$1000 of valuation

 

Contracts To Sell Power to CMP?

The article implies EMI/REC has a contract to sell power to CMP. As a public regulated electrical power transmission and delivery utility, CMP is not allowed to be in the business of generating, buying, or selling electricity.

The purpose of the EMI project as proposed is to provide base load electricity to the power grid in Maine displacing aging coal fired facilities. If developed and approved as proposed, the power likely would be part of the “standard offer” electricity available to both Emera Maine and Iberdrola/CMP customers.

No contracts for the power have been signed. A long term contract for power generation is the RFP RMI did not pursue back on May 1st. Any contract with CMP would be a technical contract about the physical connection of the proposed power plant to the grid.

 

Possible Pipeline Spur Routes

The article seems to suggest a pipeline spur might run from Windsor to Belfast. The Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline already runs through Waldo County to Kennebec County (see attachment map). So running a spur from Windsor back into Waldo County is unnecessarily.

A spur to Rockland could come from either the Windsor interconnection or the Searsmont compressor station. In either case the spur would follow existing utility and road corridors.

Would the plant lower electrical costs for Rockland residents?

The only way to make lower costs electrical power available from this facility to all Rockland residents would be to form a municipal power utility or a local power cooperative. Neither are easy to do and both would take time to create – – assuming there was public interest and enough fiscal benefit to warrant pursuing this option.

That said, many municipalities are creating “micro grids” (i.e., small local power grids serving an area in a town near or immediately adjacent to a power source). This could be an option to provide lower cost electricity in the Industrial Park, or near any site where a CHP facility was constructed.

A number of commercial and industrial users potentially could benefit from having easy access to low cost steam for manufacturing or heating purposes.

Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.

Correction: An earlier version of this story named two organizations, stating they were engaged in negotiations to serve as potential independent experts on the power plant proposal. Those organizations have since come forward and stated they are not engaged in those negotiations with the city. The error was caused by inaccurate information provided to The Courier-Gazette.