Stuck on an infrastructure island

The federal government is the latest entity to join the growing list of people and groups voicing concern about New England’s energy pinch.

Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, issued its yearly Winter Energy Market Assessment – a preview of what the federal oversight agency expects will happen to energy supplies, prices, and markets across the country during the winter months. It found that New England is at great risk for high prices with little relief in sight. This analysis prompted one commissioner to call New England “somewhat of an island from an infrastructure standpoint.”

The spike in electricity rates announced last month by several utilities are the result of many factors which are expected to play out again this winter—including our lack of adequate energy infrastructure. New England is on an infrastructure island where natural gas can’t reach power plants when it’s needed the most. Without added natural gas pipelines, these high prices will continue, something even residents in communities along natural gas pipeline routes are starting to acknowledge.

New England cannot obtain lower energy costs with more natural gas alone. Vermont Yankee and Salem Harbor, two large non-gas power plants, will both be closed by the end of 2014 and the future of other power plants in the region has been called into question, risking the fuel diversity that is key to price and grid stability.

It will also take more than expanded natural gas capacity to help New England its renewable energy goals. This effort will require new infrastructure. Whether it’s wind, solar or Canadian hydropower, new clean energy projects need transmission lines to get the power to the people.
New energy projects have the potential to lower energy costs and create jobs while still respecting the environment. But the ongoing debate about new energy projects reminds us of the challenges before us.

futures prices for EB FINAL

(The links below are used in the above communication)

Winter 2014-15 Energy Market Assessment

Grid operators wary of coming winter
(Utility Dive)

Pittsfield council puts off vote on gas pipeline
(Berkshire Eagle)

Oil, natural gas prices confound New England
(AP via Nashua Telegraph)

Bridgeport’s coal plant in for the long run
(Connecticut Post)

The Value of US Power Diversity

Lack of transmission lines stand in way of wind power
(Republican American)

Party lines and pipelines: Candidates talk energy
(AP via Bloomberg Businessweek)

Patrick’s energy policies under criticism
(Boston Globe)

Patrick administration launches review of state’s natural gas needs
(Boston Business Journal)

Electric power rights of way a new frontier for conservation
(Yale Environment 360)

Posted in Energy Brief, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Forecasting a stormy energy future

There’s been plenty of reason to dread the upcoming winter but here’s some good news: according to the Energy Department, it may not be as cold as last year.winter energy rates nh

Yet, regardless of what the forecast brings, the damage is done. The same combination of factors that played out last winter is driving power prices for many New Englanders to extremes. We’re, if anything, more vulnerable now than we were a year ago: two major New England power plants will be retired by year’s end without new sources to replace them and there’s been no increase in the region’s pipeline to support our growing demand for natural gas to produce electricity (which leaves little, if any, gas to generate power on the coldest days of the year because the fuel available in the pipeline needs to be used for heating instead.) All that uncertainty has already influenced prices, even if we’re treated to a mild winter.

As media all over New England are reporting, business owners are facing some rough months ahead, non-profits are wondering how they’re going to make up for significant hits to their budgets, and core industries are blaming energy costs as a major reason to close up shop. People are looking for explanations, calling for investigations into how this could happen.

New England’s emerging energy crisis is sure to inspire many spirited discussions over the next few months, but one thing is certain: we need to give serious consideration to the new, diverse sources of energy being proposed for the region. We can’t leave our energy security up to New England’s fickle winter forecast.

(The links below are used in the above communication)

Home Heating Costs Likely to Be Cheaper This Winter
(New York Times)

Northeast U.S. Gas at Decade-High for Winter on Supply

Power cost increase going into effect despite plentiful natural gas inventory
(Taunton Daily Gazette)

Consumers to get shocking lessons about electricity
(Portsmouth Herald)

Electric customers are going to pay
(Nashua Telegraph)

Businesses to see high electricity costs this winter
(WCSH 6 – Portland)

Residents, businesses grapple with looming electricity rate spike
(Concord Monitor)

Brockton area officials concerned about National Grid rate surge
(The Enterprise)

Energy costs among chief culprits in Bucksport mill’s demise
(Portland Press Herald)

Gary Rayno’s State House Dome: A winter of discontent over energy costs
(New Hampshire Union Leader)

Attorney general protests rate hike
(Boston Globe)

Renewables are in New England’s future, but gas pipelines still needed
(Boston Globe)

Editorial: Electric rate hikes result from wishful thinking on energy
(Eagle Tribune)

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Higher prices, now what?

Energy insiders and public officials are starting to talk more bluntly about New England’s emerging crisis and what it will mean for the average home and business owner:

“What we thought was very scary last fall may be even scarier this year.”

“This winter will be another challenge for New Hampshire citizens.”

“…New England this winter, based on what’s been recently trading, is likely to have the highest natural gas prices on planet earth.”

“This is going to hurt everyone; individuals, families and businesses…Time to circle the wagons and fight this.”

Eye popping rate increases that stand to burden so many New Englanders this winter are among the many challenges facing the region in the months and years ahead. Retiring power plants will further strain the supply of reliable power and recent attempts to build consensus around region-wide solutions have come up short.

While the public looks to sparring policy makers to ease the situation, they may not find a clear or easy answer. The good news is that several proposed projects could provide relief (though even if approved today, none would be online for several more years). One pipeline or one renewable energy transmission project won’t fill New England’s growing gap between supply and demand on its own; combined, however, these proposals can help the region achieve a more affordable, diverse and reliable energy future.

N.H. Energy Summit takeaway: expect natural gas spikes again this winter
(New Hampshire Business Review)

Energy experts worry about upcoming winter
(Foster’s Daily Democrat)

As Electricity Prices Rise, Policy Makers Ponder Solutions
(New Hampshire Public Radio)

National Grid customers, lawmakers charged up over rate increase
(Berkshire Eagle)

Regulators OK 47 percent rate hike for Liberty Utilities customers
(New Hampshire Union Leader)

Rate hike could be more than many can handle
(Boston Globe)

Closing Vermont Nuclear Bad Business For Everyone

LePage urges federal regulators to fast-track natural gas pipelines
(Portland Press Herald)

Maine Candidates for Governor Spar Over Natural Gas Pipeline
(Maine Public Broadcasting Network)

Candidate answers vague on electricity price spike
(CommonWealth Magazine)

Price we pay for not stepping on the gas
(Lowell Sun)

We should be looking at how to boost energy infrastructure
(Boston Globe)

Clean energy jobs: Gov. Deval Patrick said report shows economy can grow while being environmentally responsible
(Springfield Republican)

Posted in Energy Brief | Comments Off

Energy crisis hits home

For those of you who’ve regularly read the Energy Brief over the course of the last year, the recent news of rising electricity rates will come as no surprise. Still, the sticker shock is so significant it’s hard to pick just a few headlines to share.

Several New Hampshire utilities have recently asked state regulators to approve significant increases in the ‘energy’ component of their rates, driving the average electric bill for some NH residents this winter as much as 50 percent higher a month. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, rates are expected to hit record levels.

nh v national average pricesFINAL

Data from the Energy Information Administration shows NH energy prices are much higher in most categories than the U.S. average. Numbers as of June, 2014.

These increases will shrink homeowners’ disposable income, add to local businesses operating costs and strain local government budgets. Consumer advocates and opinion makers are already asking officials to do something to soften the blow, both this winter and in winters to come.

New England’s increased demand for natural gas must be addressed, but if the focus is only on pipelines and the supply of natural gas, the region’s overall problem will not be corrected. Overreliance on natural gas has left New England more susceptible to price volatility on the energy market at the same time that a number of non-gas fired power plants have announced retirement. While adding more pipelines can help minimize the price spikes, it does nothing to reduce our dependence on natural gas in the long term, and does not get us to our clean energy goals.

Our high electricity and home heating prices have made energy a political issue across New England. People are looking to elected officials to help with the problem, but they remain in a tough position. With opposition to pipelines, transmission lines, wind turbines and more, finding balance between local interests and the region’s energy needs will continue to be a challenge.

Prior issues of the Energy Brief

Electric rates set to spike this winter
(Boston Globe)

“Energy industry officials have been warning for several years that New England’s growing dependence on natural gas could result in price spikes if steps such as the expansion of the pipeline system are not taken. About two-thirds of the electricity used in Massachusetts is made with natural gas, up from about 40 percent just six years ago.”

Unitil Predicts Higher Electricity Costs This Winter

(Concord Monitor)

If approved, the company’s energy charge will nearly double, increasing to 15.5 cents per kilowatt-hour from the current 8.4 cents. The new rate would take effect Dec. 1.

Liberty Utilities requests a 46% rate hike
(New Hampshire Union Leader)

“An average residential customer using 665 kilowatt hours a month would see his bill rise by $51.57 a month, from $110.48 to $162.05.”

Electricity Prices Soar
(Commonwealth Magazine)

“The sharply higher rates are coming at a time when several of the region’s coal power plants are shutting down and the New England governors are debating where replacement electricity will come from.”

Consumer advocate seeks relief on Liberty rate hike

“New Hampshire’s Consumer Advocate has asked regulators to soften the blow of a big rate hike expected for as many as 42,000 New Hampshire electricity customers.”

Help for New England’s energy demands

“State and federal authorities responsible for choosing a plan must balance all competing public interests — and preferably on an expedited time table.”

Everywhere but Northeast, fewer homes choose natural gas as heating fuel
(EIA: Today in Energy)

“(Nationally) electricity has been gaining market share at the expense of natural gas. The Northeast is the exception, as both natural gas and electricity have been increasing while distillate fuel oil and kerosene have declined.”

Abundant natural gas won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough
(Huffington Post)

“Their modeling found that having a high supply of natural gas does little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future, largely because the use of gas slowed the transition to renewables.”

Maine Voices: With Maine at clean-energy tipping point, next governor will play key role
(Portland Press Herald)

“In the long term, the state must also find more environmentally friendly and cost-effective heating and electricity solutions.”

Deval Patrick’s renewable revolution
(Boston Business Review)

“It was Patrick, as the state’s chief executive, who set the tone that spurred a steady stream of new laws and regulations that dramatically reshaped the state’s energy policy.

Posted in Energy Brief | Comments Off

Options for the Future

new england electricity prices NE first half 2014

New England’s residential retail electricity rates rose faster in the first half of 2014 than anywhere else in the country because of the increased cost of wholesale power. Source: EIA

Here in New England, we’re hearing about a lot of proposed energy projects, from wind farms and natural gas pipelines to hydro and solar arrays. The debate circling around these proposals is rooted in the region’s continued search for solutions to the volatile equation of declining sources of power and sharply rising prices.   It’s no wonder officials say we’re in the midst of an energy crisis.

Forging a path towards lower costs and greater energy reliability has been hampered by debate over individual projects and disagreement over how to shape forward-looking energy policy. But there is good news. In the absence of consensus, market solutions are in fact developing.

The latest project announced last week would upgrade natural gas pipelines into the region to relieve the cold weather bottlenecks that have added billions of dollars to the wholesale cost of energy and severely threatened reliability. Elsewhere, smaller scale projects continue to explore wind and solar technologies while hydropower is positioned to answer the region’s call for significant amounts of clean energy. New England can also be proud of the strides being made in energy efficiency (though they still are not enough to offset the declining sources of power).

Energy is a booming business across the country. Cities elsewhere in America are experiencing a renaissance thanks to, among other things, the “shale gas revolution.” Hopefully New England, already at an economic disadvantage due to high energy costs, will soon catch up.

Vermont Yankee scales back power output, but not staff
(Brattleboro Reformer)

Steep increase in electricity rates predicted
(Portsmouth Herald)

Energy Company Lays Out Pipeline Plans, Law Foundation Explains Approval Process

Salem power plant proposal gets lifeline from FERC despite rivals’ opposition
(Boston Business Journal)

Group slams federal energy regulators over alleged market manipulation
(New Haven Register)

Spectra, Northeast Utilities partner on $3 billion project to bring more natural gas to New England
(Bangor Daily News)

Utilities plan $3 billion natural gas pipeline
(New Hampshire Union Leader)

Powered by the sun – via panels many miles away
(Portland Press Herald)

Energy: What Americans really want
(Boston Globe)

Efficiency, Renewables Cut Away At Growth In New England Electricity Use
(Hartford Courant)

Boom in Energy Spurs Industry in the Rust Belt
(New York Times)

Posted in Energy Brief | Comments Off

We Have to Diversify a Little


Minot Farm

For more than 200 years, the Minot family has lived and worked on a 450-acre farm just north of the White Mountains National Forest. Its rolling hills and freshly mowed fields are dotted with cows. The large red barn, white farmhouse, and swift brook running through the heart of the farm are quintessential rural New England.

Willie Minot

Willie Minot

“The land is very important to us,” said farm owner William Minot. “It’s the reason we do this. It’s been here all my life, for several generations, and it’s our goal to keep it that way as long as we can.”

Minot and his family grow crops and hay, run a dairy farm and produce maple syrup. Much of this work is done beneath or within view of high-powered electrical transmissions lines that have stood on the farm for decades. Minot said these lines have had little impact on his family business. To him, they are just another part of the landscape.

“Never had a bit of a problem with them,” said Minot. “I could look through those lines and I wouldn’t even see them. They’ve always been there. I kind of like to have the electricity work, so I figure we need to move a little juice through here.”

We visited the Minot Farm earlier this year to get Minot’s take on the power lines. In this video, you’ll see the scenic Minot Farm and hear about the power line’s benefits, including electricity for families and businesses like his. The video also shows that transmission lines, like those proposed by Northern Pass, can exist in harmony with the surrounding landscape.

Posted in Videos | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

The Chilly Reality

The need for new sources of energy is becoming more obvious as we head into the colder months. Federal regulators have approved emergency measures to make sure the lights stay on this winter while the natural gas industry appealed to New England’s governors to stay committed to the pipeline expansion that many say is needed to ensure electric reliability.

Fewer sourceretirementss of power and a lack of infrastructure are prompting the region’s grid operator to predict many “precarious” winters ahead.

Yet, despite all this, protestors grabbed a few headlines this week in both Massachusetts and Vermont, drawing attention to how contentious the debate over energy development can be; elsewhere, there are more moderate calls to hold back.

Experts indicate that New England does not have the luxury to wait. Without new energy development, the region will only continue to see high prices for power, cold-weather back up plans, and overall uncertainty about our energy future.


FERC OK’s 2014/2015 Winter Reliability Program
(ISO Newswire)

ANGA to New England Governors: Build Pipelines

ISO New England adjusts to changing electricity market

Efficiency, Renewables Cut Away At Growth In New England Electricity Use
(Hartford Courant)

Bristol DA drops charges, says protesters were right
(Boston Globe)

Protesters go to home of head of Vermont Gas
(Burlington Free Press)

Letter to the editor: State has alternatives to gas pipeline
(Portland Press Herald)

Posted in Energy Brief | Comments Off

Consider the Source

residential electricity prices

New England pays some of the highest electricity prices in the nation and the gap between our region and elsewhere in the country is only growing. Source: EIA

Whether it’s lower electricity bills, a cleaner environment, or better grid reliability, there are plenty of good reasons to support new energy development. But what happens when there is conflict over the best route to a more secure energy future? Projects can be delayed or withdrawn along with the benefits they stand to provide.

As we’ve said before – every new energy project faces a share of opposition and each one should be rightly vetted in the public permitting process. But there are emerging questions about select groups that seem to be making a business out of opposing energy market reforms and development. These efforts ignore the pressing challenges facing our region.

New England has an immediate need for new sources of clean and affordable power. As the public and policy makers consider the many projects proposed to fill that need, they should also evaluate both the merits and the potential impact of opposition to those projects.

Residential electricity prices are rising
(EIA Today in Energy)

NH report lays out energy efficiency recommendations
(New Hampshire Union Leader)

Maine positioned to battle climate change
(Portsmouth Herald)

EPA rejects power plant opponents’ appeal
(Salem News)

Conservation Law Foundation’s old support for gas gets new scrutiny
(Boston Business Journal)

Our electricity grid is bending; without change, it will break
(Bangor Daily News)

Mass. faces new energy challenges
(Worcester Telegram & Gazette)

Posted in Energy Brief, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Investing in the Future

When it comes to energy, there is one thing on which most people agree– New England, and the nation for that matter, need more reliable and diverse sources of power. Whether it’s natural gas, nuclear, hydropower or other renewables, new discoveries and technologies have the potential to relieve our energy needs. The path there won’t be quick or easy. Opposition to individual projects and a lack of agreement among those who drive energy policy are all challenges that must be overcome anywhere projects are debated.

infrastructure investment

This chart, compiled by the Energy Information Administration, shows where infrastructure investment dollars have been spent over the last 15 years.

Our ability to add more sources of energy also relies on infrastructure. Renewable energy can’t reach the grid without transmission lines to carry it there. Natural gas can’t be a viable alternative to traditional fossil fuels if there isn’t a pipeline to get it to a power plant. Even increased output from existing generation relies on upgrades to transmission lines.

We may be at the dawn of a new energy era in America – and the need for new development is urgent. Reaching our goal of a secure and reliable energy grid will require significant coordination between the states and more investment in infrastructure and technology.

Our View: Stalled gas pipeline shows need for energy diversity
(Portland Press Herald)

New England relying more on natural gas along with hydroelectric imports from Canada

Stop worrying, and love nuclear power: Officials

Plans in motion to beat energy crisis
(Portsmouth Herald)

George Coppenrath: New England pols create energy woes
(Providence Journal)

Texas company cancels Alabama wind farm project
(Montgomery Advertiser)

Beating Our Enemies By Energy Independence

This chart about power lines says a lot about how the US electricity system is changing

New England governors’ energy effort on hold
(AP via Concord Monitor)

Tackling New England’s Energy Challenges
(New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library)

‘Major investment cycle’ and rapidly changing U.S. energy markets pose fresh challenges for FERC
(E&E Publishing)

Posted in Energy Brief, Uncategorized | Comments Off

An Industry in Transition

States’ renewable energy standards, a focus on energy efficiency, lower costs for renewable energy sources, and a natural gas boom have all greatly changed New England’s energy market in the past decade. The good news is these changes have led to lower greenhouse gas emissions, including a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions throughout New England.

The bad news is that New England’s energy market and the sources of our power have fallen out of balance. The region relies too much on one fuel source – natural gas – to generate power and there’s not enough natural gas supply to meet our needs.

The New England grid operator, ISO New England, has been talking about this growing problem for the past few years, and again recently voiced concern when President and CEO, Gordon Van Welie, spoke to a group of power industry representatives. The presentation, called “Reliability and Economic Challenges Resulting from an Electric Power Industry in Transition,” outlined the region’s changing energy landscape, including the effects on energy customers.

Van Welie noted that technological advances are bringing down the cost of renewable power sources and increasing their position in the energy market. Low natural gas prices are also prompting development of natural gas-fired plants in New England. More affordable renewable and natural gas sources mean the region is moving away from costlier fuels, such as oil and coal. As a result, New England relies on natural gas for 46 percent of its electricity today.

Yet as last winter showed, New England can’t always count on natural gas and the grid was forced to return to traditional fossil fuels to keep the lights on. As you can see from the chart below, most of the region’s natural gas-fired plants sat idle on one of the coldest days of the year because the supply of natural gas was constrained, and the market price of energy that day skyrocketed to record rates.

Van Welie advised the group of energy experts that changing the way the market functions and creating new rules and incentives for generators could help solve the problem, but most people in the energy industry agree those are only temporary fixes. For New England to ensure reliability and prevent spikes in electricity prices, new non-natural gas sources of power must be added to the regional grid.

1Van Welie Pipeline Obligations 01-28-14 Graph

Posted in Energy Brief, Uncategorized | Comments Off