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Hot weather forces Yarmouth's Wyman Station back into service

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Hot weather forces Yarmouth's Wyman Station back into service

YARMOUTH — Demand for energy recently awoke a sleeping giant.

Wyman Station, the oil-fired power plant on Cousins Island, was called into service July 18 and 19 to generate electricity for the New England energy market during a period of peak demand, according to spokesman Steve Stengel.

The high energy demand was the result of soaring temperatures that gripped the region for several days in mid-July. In anticipation of the hottest weather, ISO New England, which administers the region's wholesale electricity markets, launched a voluntary conservation effort.

In a July 16 press release, the nonprofit corporation asked customers to turn up air-conditioner thermostats, turn off unnecessary lights, defer doing laundry until early morning or late evening hours, and more.

At the same time, ISO New England required all power stations to suspend  non-essential maintenance to ensure "they were available to us during this time of high demand," spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg said.

The request came amid a period of extreme heat for the region, including record-breaking temperatures in Maine. On Friday, July 19, coastal Cumberland County was under a heat advisory from the National Weather Service. Heat advisories are declared whenever the heat index – a calculation of heat and humidity – is between 100 and 105 degrees. In Portland, the heat index reached 103 degrees at its peak on Friday. The city also hit a record high temperature of 95 degrees for July 19.

It was the type of weather that prompts owners NextEra Energy Resources to stoke the aging, inefficient Wyman Station into action.

Stengel wouldn't say how many days the plant has produced energy in recent years, but it is widely known that the plant sits idle for most of the year, generating revenue simply for its capacity to generate power.

"The station is always hot, spinning and ready to go," Nat Tupper, Yarmouth's town manager for 30 years, said. "It still has production capability that is significant, and it is mostly there for difficult days like we've had."

In April, NextEra disclosed its intent to sell Wyman Station along with Cape Gas, a smaller, oil-fired generator in South Portland, according to a report from the Bangor Daily News. On Tuesday, Stengel told The Forecaster there are no updates on whether any potential buyers have expressed interest in the 35-year-old Yarmouth plant.

ISO spokeswoman Blomberg also declined to say how often Wyman Station operates, but cited a statistic that oil-fired plants contributed less than 1 percent of power to the New England grid during 2012.

The declining use of the station has also led to a decline in Yarmouth's tax base, Tupper said.

Two decades ago, the station represented more than 40 percent of the town's value. Now it's estimated at about 7 percent, he said, and a true value won't be known until mid-August.

As a result, the town's tax burden has shifted each year from the plant to residents, but this year's shift will not be as significant as it was at the onset of the decline 15 years ago, Tupper said.

Overall, the relationship between the town and the plant has been mixed, Tupper said.

"We've certainly enjoyed working relationships, for the most part," he said. "We've certainly had skirmishes – disagreements over property tax issues in the past. But, by and large, our relationship has been positive and I think mutually beneficial to the companies that have owned it and the town."

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.