The Numbers Don’t Lie

Utility Dive price chart

EIA information via Utility Dive shows the breakdown of retail electricity prices by region. The Pacific Noncontiguous region is made up of Hawaii and Alaska. New England is the highest in the contiguous 48 states.

No matter which way you look at it, electricity prices in New England are high. The cost of literally being at the end of the pipeline – and resisting efforts to expand the region’s energy supply – is adding up for both business owners and homeowners alike.

There is broad, general agreement that New England needs to tap into the abundance of both natural gas and hydroelectricity just outside of our region. Many believe that finding consensus on the best way to do that, together with incorporating local renewable energy projects, will finally begin to stabilize supply and lower prices.

 

5 charts that explain U.S. electricity prices
Utility Dive, 23 March 2015

Northeast, despite highest gas costs, resists more pipelines
AP via Concord Monitor, 29 March 2015

High utility costs irk businesses, politicians at Franklin roundtable
Milford Daily News, 28 March 2015

Lawmaker investigating massive utility rate hikes
My Fox Boston, 27 March 2015

Hydro-Quebec looking south to new markets
VT Digger, 24 March 2015

U.S., Canadian officials cite regional energy collaboration
AP via Concord Monitor, 23 March 2015

We need relief from energy stranglehold
Lowell Sun, 27 March 2015

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Northern Pass Joins Partnership to Protect N.H.’s Forests and Rivers

Northern Pass announced on Thursday it is part of a new effort that will bring more than $4.5 million in land conservation and restoration grants to New Hampshire. Called Partners for New Hampshire’s Fish and Wildlife, this program is aimed at restoring and sustaining healthy forests and rivers throughout the state.

From the beginning, Northern Pass has sought to form partnerships with local communities and organizations to support efforts that strengthen New Hampshire’s economy. We believe this new partnership represents a significant commitment to build NEcottontail1upon New Hampshire’s strengths as a place where wildlife can thrive.

Over the next two years, Partners for New Hampshire’s Fish and Wildlife will focus on supporting cost-effective, hands-on conservation projects around the state. Projects will be selected based on their ability to achieve long-term, measurable outcomes that meet the program’s goals. These goals include:

  • Strengthening the health of the forest system;
  • Sustaining working forests;
  • Improving the quality of streams;
  • Enhancing the biodiversity of New Hampshire’s fish and wildlife population.

Partners for New Hampshire’s Fish and Wildlife is the result of a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Northern Pass’ parent company, Eversource. Northern Pass has committed $3 million to the partnership. NFWF and its funding partners are committing an additional $1.5 million, boosting the total conservation impact to at least $4.5 million. Through NFWF’s efforts, there is the potential for more funding from additional partners.

NFWF has already granted funding to two early action projects. In Londonderry and Dover, NFWF has granted $200,000 for protecting and rebuilding habitat for early successional species, or those animals that thrive in young forests, like the New England cottontail and the American woodcock. Overseen by the Wildlife Management Institute, the funding for this project will go toward restoring roughly 30 acres in both communities, as well as provide educational materials about the project to Londonderry High School and Middle School through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat program.

In addition, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc., will use a $180,000 grant toward its Eastern Brook Trout Aquatic Organism Passage project, which will reopen more than 10 miles of fish habitat in Haverhill and create 20 miles of interconnected habitat for the Eastern Brook Trout—a threatened species.

trout1

Other partners for these projects include New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the Town of Londonderry, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and the Town of Haverhill.

In the coming two years, NFWF will continue to solicit additional grant applications from other projects around the state. The next round of proposals will be awarded this summer.

As the state’s largest proposed clean energy project, Northern Pass is proud to be part of a partnership that seeks to protect and strengthen our state’s most treasured and unique habitats. We look forward to seeing the results of the important conservation efforts that will be fostered by this partnership.

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The path to prosperity

New Hampshire residents would largely agree that the entire state benefits when the economy is doing well, businesses are growing and people can find a job with a good wage. We’ve written here before about how business leaders across the state are worried our recovering economy is in jeopardy because of New Hampshire’s high energy costs. We saw that message again last week from a well-known New Hampshire policy expert, concerned our current energy policy could contribute to New Hampshire moving in the wrong direction.

Across the region, the debate over energy is advancing. Experts spend less time on whether more natural gas is needed in New England and more time on how best to get it here. Enthusiasm for solar energy has prompted the regional grid operator to adjust its forecast for the energy source, and in Maine, a $1.4 billion transmission line upgrade was recently completed that brought thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the Maine economy. We still continue to debate the details when it comes to new energy sources, but there is a growing consensus when it comes to the need for new infrastructure.

 

Links:

Charlie Arlinghaus: For NH think long-term or fall behind
New Hampshire Union Leader

Pipeline opponents say LNG is underutilized
Boston Globe

More solar faster predicts New England grid operator
JD Supra Business Advisor

CMP nears completion of $1.4 billion power grid upgrade
Portland Press Herald

My Turn: Here’s the real story about hydropower in Quebec
Concord Monitor

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A season of change for energy

We saw last week that New England’s energy landscape is changing rapidly, from how power is made to how much we pay for it. Our state’s 12 utility-owned power plants will be going on the market, completing the two-decade long process of deregulating New Hampshire’s energy industry. Energy officials speculate these plants will be quickly purchased, as other existing power plants in neighboring New England states have been.

There was also discussion of the annual ISO New England Forward Capacity Auction, which will net power generators $4 billion in 2018-2019 – and add to New England’s continually rising electricity rates. Across the region, residents and elected officials continue to push for clean energy. A new study shows solar energy has a future in a state like Maine but, like other clean energy projects, the debate is over who pays for it.

Links:

New Hampshire to sell utility-owned power plants
Boston Globe

Give us your tired, your poor power plants
New Hampshire Union Leader

Deregulation behind payments to keep power plants online
New Hampshire Union Leader

Next four years of electricity costs looking bleak
New Hampshire Union Leader

Growth in residential electricity prices highest in 6 years, but expected to slow in 2015
EIA Today in Energy

The amazing effort to save Cape Win
Cape Cod Today

My Turn: Here’s the real story about hydropower in Quebec
Concord Monitor

The value of power: Solar goes sky-high in Maine
Portland Press Herald

New Maine wind farm reopens legal questions
Bangor Daily News

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Taking the long view

Just as some were declaring the region has overcome its energy challenges, the folks who run New England’s electrical grid issued a reality check last week. The 2015 Regional Electricity Outlook underscores the need for new energy infrastructure to ensure, “a reliable supply of competitively priced electricity…”

ne_elec

Data from the Energy Information Administration shows New England’s electricity rates to be consistently higher than the U.S. average. Courtesy EIA.gov

The long term presents inarguable and troubling trends for New England. Electricity rates have been higher here, on average, than anywhere else in the continental U.S. since 2003; and, despite a dip in wholesale prices this winter from last year’s historic highs, costs are projected to rise even more over the coming years.

The core reasons for this price pressure remain the same – too little fuel diversity and a lack of infrastructure to support New England’s electricity demands. These root causes won’t go away with temporary fixes, and failing to address them will have a major impact on the region’s economy.

 

Power Plant Owners Argue Energy ‘Crisis’ Is Overblown
NHPR, 4 March 2015

Fuel, Reliability Constraints for New England Grid
Electric Co-Op Today, 9 March 2015

2015 Regional Electricity Outlook
ISO-NE, 27 February 2015

New England Residential Electricity Rates Rise in 2013 and 2014
EIA.gov, 4 March 2015

Wholesale electricity costs won’t stay low forever
NHBR, 20 February 2015

Prices Rise in 2018/2019 New England Power Auction
Energy Manager Today, 4 March 2015

Power and prices weather the winter
CT Mirror, 6 March 2015

Kennedy keeps up protests against electric rate auction; columnist cites ‘price-gouging’
The Herald News, 2 March 2015

Business president: Electricity supplies key to lowering prices
Concord Monitor, 8 March 2015

Groups mull vision of economic development in NH
Union Leader, 3 March 2015

 

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Consider This

The New England Power Generators Association, or NEPGA, is echoing the false claim that the region’s energy crisis is over – that winter power prices are down compared to last year, market fixes have solved the problem, and major investment in new infrastructure isn’t needed. Their claims contradict the evidence before us and overlook the very real and expensive energy problem New England now faces. Before buying NEPGA’s claim, consider this…

The Truth about Prices
While it is accurate to say wholesale electricity prices in New England were down in January compared to the historic high the year before, the average price of wholesale power during the winter of 2014 was a whopping 94 percent more than in 2013. Prices this January were still a lot more than they were two years ago – 34 percent more, and preliminary data also suggests that this February’s wholesale prices were higher than two years ago. As we look to the future, the 1,500 megawatt Brayton Point power plant, which primarily burns coal and oil, will retire in June 2017, making New England’s gas dependency even higher and putting even more upward pressure on energy prices.

What’s overlooked in the reports about “lower energy costs this winter” is that New England customers continue to pay more for electricity than anywhere else in the country. According to data from the Energy Information Administration, homeowners here pay on average 5 cents per kilowatt hour more than the U.S. average. For a modest electricity user, that amounts to $300 extra a year.

Big Dollars at Stake
NEPGA’s members control more than 80 percent of all the existing power generation in New England. Every year generators pledge to produce power several years down the road in a process called the Forward Capacity Auction. The FCA guarantees payments to generators for this pledge, essentially a type of “incentive payment.” Electric utility customers in New England currently pay a total of $1 billion in annual capacity payments. The most recent auction results indicate that price tag will increase to $4 billion in three years.

Here in New Hampshire for instance, the owners of Seabrook Station will receive $45 million in capacity payments this year. The most recent auction results indicate that figure will increase to $127 million in 2018, and even more the following year. These increased capacity payments are the result of limited supply and looming power plant retirements that are shrinking our capacity supply. Generators receive bigger payments because when supply goes down prices go up.

Interestingly, these capacity payments are in addition to the money power generators will make on the electricity they produce. Without major solutions to address supply constraints, these capacity prices will stay high, and New England’s electric utility customers will continue to pay extra money to generators just to stay open.

Temporary is No Solution
In NEPGA’s recent press conference, speakers pointed to market responses that kept wholesale power prices from reaching record highs again this winter. Few of these responses, however, can be viewed as permanent fixes.

One such fix is ISO-New England’s Winter Reliability Program which offers potentially millions of dollars in incentives to power plants for storing extra fuel – like oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) –as a backup if natural gas is unavailable or other problems strain the ability to produce power. The program is a temporary one and requires federal approval each year it’s proposed.

Another fix cited is this year’s increased supply of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), which this winter was pumped into New England’s pipelines from off-shore ports. In recent years, LNG has gotten a higher premium in markets outside the US, but that changed this year. Low market prices for LNG worldwide have made New England an attractive market. While those shipments certainly helped to stabilize natural gas prices and supply this winter, there’s no certainty that prices will continue to be attractive enough to rely on future shipments.

There is a wide regional discussion about how to rein in New England’s out-of-control energy costs. Multiple studies point to a real problem that will only be solved by adding new energy infrastructure. Even our independent grid operator, ISO New England, is urging our region to increase our energy supply. Yet NEPGA’s members claim that there is no crisis. It’s no wonder, considering all they have to lose if New England really does solve its energy challenges.

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Keeping it in perspective

With spring just weeks away, we’re starting to get a sense of how much fuel was used to make electricity this winter and how much it cost. This year’s natural gas and electricity prices were not as high as last year, despite higher demand and one of the coldest Februarys on record. Unfortunately, New England is still paying the highest energy prices in the country.

New England natural gas prices between Jan. 1 and Feb. 20 traded at prices “four or more times higher than in the west.” The average price in California during that time

Courtesy: www.eia.gov, source: Natural Gas Intelligence

Courtesy: www.eia.gov, source: Natural Gas Intelligence

was $3.10 per million British thermal unit (MMBtu), but New England prices averaged above $10 MMBtu and climbed to $23.51/MMBtu on peak days. Power plants in New Hampshire were running throughout the cold, but natural gas supply constraints and price volatility were still factors.

The cost to produce power is also less than it was at this time last winter, but this has yet to translate into lower rates for residential customers, and prices continue to remain the highest in the continental U.S. For example, day-ahead wholesale electricity prices for Feb. 28 were trading at an average of $140.92 per megawatt hour, while in California, electricity futures were around $30. Efforts to lower these rates continue. The governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island are joining together to increase use of renewable energy sources and expand natural gas capacity.

While some might argue New England has come out on the other side of its winter energy crisis, price data show the cost of natural gas and electricity remains high.

 

Links:

As New England freezes, natural gas stays cheap
Reuters

New England natural gas demand up over winter 2013/2014
Fierce Energy

Historically cold February in Concord doesn’t trigger spike in heating help
Concord Monitor

As record setting cold blasts the East, western temperatures warmer than normal
EIA Natural Gas Weekly

Eversource: you know its cold when…
Girard At-Large

Wholesale electric prices lower than expected but residential rates remain high
Boston Globe

Governors looking to expand renewable energy, natural gas
Daily Hampshire Gazette

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The old, familiar pangs of winter

NE Fuel Mix Chart 02-16-15

Nearly a quarter of New England’s power was generated by oil on Monday morning, February 16th. Oil, on average, makes up less than one percent of the annual fuel mix.

The challenges of this winter extend beyond shoveling and parking problems. Just like we saw last winter, the extended cold and snow are again driving up the cost of natural gas and, in turn, power. To meet our electricity demands, the region has been using more oil to generate electricity.

While every winter is different, we are starting to see that in New England our energy problems remain the same year after year. We continue to see evidence that the region must increase and diversify its power supply to ensure reliability and remain economically competitive.

Winter’s relentless grasp grabbed the headlines last week, but we also saw how leaders are making moves to shape New England’s energy future and how the region’s utilities, including Eversource, are seeking to ease the congested transmission system and increase access to natural gas.

Northeast gas demand hits record high on Monday
EIA Natural Gas Weekly Update, 19 February 2015

Make it stop: Winter’s costs adding up
Eagle-Tribune, 22 February 2015

Natural gas prices dropped, but for how long?
New Hampshire Union Leader, 21 February 2015

New supply of electric power for New England states, but at higher prices
WMUR, 15 February 2015

Baker stresses energy costs as key to competitiveness
Boston Globe, 19 February 2015

Renewable energy makeover clears House committee
VT Digger, 17 February 2015

Renewable energy faces close scrutiny at State House
Portland Press Herald, 17 February 2015

Eversource gets nod for huge transmission project
New Hampshire Union Leader, 12 February 2015

New England energy companies detail plan to boost natural gas to region
Concord Monitor, 19 February 2015

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Realizing our potential?

All around us, there is a huge amount of potential to diversify and develop our energy supply. Placing hydropower as the cornerstone of its energy foundation, Burlington, VT now has the distinction of being powered 100% by renewables. The state of Maine is looking to unlock its hydro-possibilities. Natural gas power plant developers and wind advocates see tremendous promise in powering New England’s future. Many even believe solar has bright prospects for homeowners willing to make the investment.Proposed Generation Chart

There are, however, significant hurdles in achieving the energy “era of abundance” sought by some U.S. lawmakers. Whether because of the cost of developing a power plant or infrastructure, or public opposition to proposed energy projects, New England seems to be stuck between what can be done and what is (or isn’t) being done. This position threatens the reliability of our electrical grid and keeps prices volatile and high.

 

Burlington, Vermont Now Runs on 100 Percent Renewable Energy
Triple Pundit, 9 February 2015

Maine dam survey shows wide gulf between hydropower potential and delivery
Bangor Daily News, 8 February 2015

New England gas generation capacity to grow by 1GW
Argus Media, 6 February 2015

South Coast lawmakers hope to boost offshore wind
South Coast Today, 10 February 2015

Malloy to sponsor new solar incentive program
New Haven Register, 10 February 2015

Connecticut Site is No-Go for New PSEG Power Natural-Gas-Fired Plant
NJ Spotlight, 6 February 2015

VT Gas pulls the plug on pipeline expansion to NY
Burlington Free Press, 10 February 2015

Not in anyone’s backyard, by Jeanne Sable
Keene Sentinel, 10 February 2015

Alexandria, vote yes on Article 16 to stop wind turbine project
Laconia Citizen, 10 February 2015

GOP plans for ‘era of abundance’ in energy
The Hill, 9 February 2015

Doesn’t buy NIMBY arguments against project
Nashua Telegraph, 13 February 2015

Winter storm keeps ISO-NE real-time electricity prices above $100/MWh
Platts, 10 February 2015

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Pricey Promises

Pricey Promises

Last week, the region’s electrical grid operator, ISO-New England, reaffirmed what we’ve been seeing for a while: power is getting more expensive. In its ninth Forward Capacity Auction (FCA), the ISO locked in enough power to cover New England’s anticipated needs in 2018-19. But the much needed pledges from power producers come with a hefty price tag of $4 billion – a billion dollars more than last year’s auction.

iso fca chart

Payments to generators in the Forward Capacity Auction have increased significantly. Auctions are held three years in advance of the promised delivery year to allow for enough time for new generation, in theory, to be built. Source: ISO-NE

Capacity payments, as they’re called, are what generators get paid to fire up when called on by the ISO. These payments are figured into the wholesale price of power that trickles down to consumers. The promise of that money is supposed to help encourage the development of new energy sources.

This glimpse into the future looks a lot like today. All of the new generation that bid into the 9th FCA is fueled by natural gas, bolstering New England’s reliance on that source. New natural gas power plants will need new pipeline capacity in order to run reliably, and efforts to get that built have been contentious. The ISO also recently noted in a call with reporters that, historically, about 70 percent of proposed energy projects never come online because of siting, financial, or other issues.

So will the lights be on three years from now? Most likely, yes. But until the region is able to diversify and increase its sources of power, high prices will continue.

New England’s Capacity Prices Rise Again
Forbes, 4 February 2015

Annual Forward Capacity Market Auction Acquires Major New Generation Resources for 2018-2019
ISO-New England Press Release, 4 February 2015

A Look Back at the Look Ahead
Northern Pass Project Journal, 7 February 2014

New plants on way, power needs still unmet
New Hampshire Union Leader, 4 February 2015

New England’s dependence on natural gas for power generation expected to increase
Providence Journal, 4 February 2015

New England gas generation capacity to grow by 1GW
Argus Media, 6 February 2015

Pipeline Public Outreach Campaign Brings Voices ‘For’ And ‘Against’ To The Forefront
NHPR, 5 February 2015

ISO on Background: State of the Grid—Managing a System in Transition
ISO-New England Presentation, 21 January 2015

Marc Brown: We cannot keep relying on luck for low winter energy prices
New Hampshire Union Leader, 8 February 2015

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