Across New England, utility customers are recovering from sticker shock. Others are bracing for it. Natural gas prices continue to make headlines this winter, especially in areas of New England where wholesale costs forced manufacturers to send workers home. As the Berlin Daily Sun reported this week, high gas prices continue to hinder production at Gorham Paper and Tissue.
Increased energy costs are not just a problem in New England. Nearly everyone from the Midwest to along the Eastern Seaboard will see some effect on their bills in the coming months, as discussed in this Washington Post piece. Some customers in Connecticut have already seen their rates suddenly spike. Lawmakers there are looking into the matter, but many utilities warned about this impending pocketbook pinch back in January, citing the problems with natural gas.
This is the new reality, the region’s grid operator announced this week. In its 2014 Regional Electricity Outlook, ISO-New England predicts continued challenges in meeting electricity demands. The ISO reports that the retirement of several power plants in the coming years “poses a serious reliability challenge to the region. It reinforces New England’s dependence on natural gas and weakens the ability to weather operational issues caused by the lack of availability of gas generators.”
So how do we stop this vicious cycle? We believe fuel diversity is key and that hydro power plays an important role. Massachusetts lawmakers are recognizing the importance of hydro as a clean replacement for the coal, oil, and nuclear generated electricity that’s leaving the market. They’re considering a bill that directs utility companies to purchase large amounts of green energy, including large-scale hydro.
It makes sense to look to hydroelectricity to ensure a renewable, affordable, and reliable energy portfolio. It would ease the volatility experienced by natural gas during extreme weather conditions. And, while other renewable sources like wind and solar have important roles to play in a diverse energy future, hydro is the only low carbon fuel that is always available regardless of whether the sun shines or the wind blows.
(Below is a list of the links referenced in this communication and their source)
How New England’s dependence on natural gas is causing a pipeline traffic jam (New Bedford Standard Times)
High gas prices continue to hinder production at GPT (Berlin Daily Sun)
Frigid winter leading to big bills for natural gas (Washington Post via Portland Press Herald)
Electricity generation rates subject of hearing (Citizen’s News)
The New Normal (Northern Pass Journal Post)
ISO-NE’s 2014 Annual Energy Outlook (ISO-NE)
New bill to bring Canadian hydropower to Mass. is already generating concerns (Boston Business Journal)
Legislation raises question: What is clean energy? (Boston Globe)