Maine Business Park Seeks Partners for Green Microgrid Development

Brunswick Landing, a business park at a former naval air station in Maine, is looking for an experienced partner to help with microgrid development as part of its larger plan to become a green technology center.

microgrid developmentLocated in Brunswick on the southern Maine coast, the 3,200-acre campus now supplies its customers with only green energy. More than 100 businesses and organizations occupy the park, among them a data center, general aviation airport, medical device manufacturer, senior living facility and satellite college campus. Peak demand is 3.5 MW for the 2 million square feet of business space.

If Brunswick Landing sounds a bit like an aspiring version of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, that’s because it is — on a smaller scale. While the Navy Yard is well along in development of a 35-MW microgrid, Brunswick Landing is just getting started.

“The Navy Yard is what we want to be on steroids,” said Thomas Brubaker, public works and utilities manager of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA), which manages Brunswick landing.

Brunswick Landing may be comparatively small, but it has been growing steadily since the Navy stopped using the site as an aviation base in May 2011.

With new businesses coming in, its electric usage more than doubled from 7.5 million kWh in 2012 to 16 million kWh in 2016. MRRA expects load to reach 18.1 million kWh this year.

With most of the space for small businesses now taken, MRRA is focusing on attracting larger companies, particularly those that could occupy former airplane hangar buildings. As Brubaker sees it, adding a full microgrid to the campus may help the effort.

Already a stand-alone grid

The campus already looks something like a microgrid, although it cannot island. It operates as a stand-alone unregulated electrical grid with a point of common connection to the local utility, Central Maine Power. MRRA owns and operates all of the utility systems on the campus.

Taking advantage of Maine’s status as a restructured state, Brunswick buys most of its power – all Green-E certified — from a competitive supplier, Constellation New Energy at a fixed price per kWh plus capacity charge. The power is delivered by way of CMP’s distribution grid.

The site’s remaining power comes from an on-site 1 MW anaerobic digester generator, run by a private developer. A 1.5 MW PV solar project is scheduled to come on line this year.

All of the on-site generation would be part of the microgrid, and more is likely to be added. MRRA is agnostic about what forms of clean energy that may be. For example, it’s open to bringing energy storage onto the campus, as well as fuel cells and various forms of renewable energy.

There are some limits, however, on the types of on-site energy the campus can use. Brunswick Landing cannot erect tall wind turbines that might interfere with its aviation activity. But small wind turbines are a possibility. And it’s unlikely the business park can accommodate a large combined heat and power plant or district energy, given its small thermal load and lack of piping to distribute thermal energy.

Brubaker hopes to develop a microgrid that can island the entire campus when the central grid experiences a power outage.

“There are some businesses here for whom reliable or resilient power is critical. We want to make sure our electrical distribution system is able to accommodate that need,” he said.

 microgrid development

Aerial view of former Brunswick naval aviation base

The microgrid is meant to serve existing businesses and help attract new ones, particularly larger enterprises suited for spacious airplane hangars left from New Brunswick’s days as a Navy air station.

When the Navy left in 2011, it cost Brunswick about 5,000 jobs, a big hit for the town of about 20,000 people. The state formed the MRRA to manage the facility for civilian use. MRRA has been able to recapture 1,300 jobs so far.

“We’ve become a benchmark for other closed military installations in the country. We are ahead of projections for business attraction and job creation,” Brubaker said.

Microgrid important to renewables

As part of its master plan, Brunswick Landing intends to become a renewable energy center, where developers can beta test technology in a plug and play, real world environment. Part of that effort involves making the campus energy independent.

“So, the microgrid is a key piece of the renewable energy center,” he said. “As we build out more renewables, we’re going to have to make our grid more responsive, more resilient, to keep up with that on-site generation.”

The business park is now getting ready for microgrid development. Last summer MRRA installed new Siemens reclosers — distribution equipment that closes the breaker automatically when a fault causes it to open.  And in June, Introspective Systems won $986,802 from the U.S. Department of Energy to study pricing among fractal microgrids and develop software that it plans to test at Brunswick Landing.

Brunswick Landing still needs to install is a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, distributed automation, and a microgrid controller. The project also requires financing and engineering plans, something MRRA hopes an experienced microgrid development partner can help with.

Ready to move forward on microgrid development

Brunswick Landing is open to working with small players, but said it’s ideal partner is likely a larger company that can bring significant resources to the table.

“We’re open. We haven’t defined who the ideal partner or partners would be,” he said.

Microgrid development has barely begun; a lot of work remains. Brubaker describes the project’s status with an aviation analogy.

“Our microgrid airplane is still sitting on the tarmac. We just started the engines. They are just warming up. We haven’t even taxied off to the runway yet to take off.” But, he added, “We’re ready to move forward now.”

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

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