Support for Northern Pass continues to grow! An independent issues survey released earlier this week finds the strongest support yet for the project, with 46 percent of New Hampshire residents supporting the project and just 35 percent opposing it. The results are in line with what we have been hearing through our outreach efforts in recent months, and offer further proof that – the more people learn about Northern Pass, the more likely they are to support it.
Reading into the data gives a clearer picture of what kind of energy future New Hampshire residents want and how they want to get there. For instance:
These results will no doubt prompt policy makers to reconsider some of the popular misconceptions surrounding energy projects, and the actual concerns expressed by the public.
This chart, taken from the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce 2014 Public Opinion Survey, shows growing support and declining opposition to Northern Pass. Source: Greater Nashua Chamber
New England’s governors have called for the construction of both new natural gas pipeline and transmission lines, and they envision utility customers paying for these projects. The potential for public funding for the construction of energy projects is now, as one Vermont official predicted, drawing developers “out of the woodwork” with costly proposals designed to help New England meet its energy goals. It is clear these projects are needed, yet it’s also evident that the public has concerns about picking up the tab.
And here is where Northern Pass is different. As proposed, Northern Pass is a “merchant” or “participant-funded” project. This means that, under the current plan, customers won’t pay for the construction of the line. The cost of building long-distance underground transmission lines (five to ten times higher than overhead construction) has the potential to make a participant-funded projects uneconomic. This is one of the reasons why just 0.5 percent of all transmission lines in the country are underground.
New Hampshire residents have spoken. They want to add new sources of clean, renewable energy to the grid, and in a cost-efficient manner. Northern Pass will not only connect our grid to a major source of hydropower, it can also plug New Hampshire into its energy future.
All six New England governors commit to joint energy infrastructure agenda – Bangor Daily News
New England States Committee on Electricity Letter to ISO New England – Request for help in developing “tariff filings related to electric and natural gas infrastructure in New England.”
New England States Debate Sharing Costs For New Power Lines – Vermont Public Radio
Companies want to build multimillion-dollar power lines through Maine – Portland Press Herald
Out of Sight, Out of Mind 2012 – Edison Electric Institute
Power outages often spur questions around burying power lines – US Energy Information Administration
Think back to your sixth grade science class and what you learned about problem solving. First, you had to identify the problem. Then you came up with ideas on how to solve that problem. After that, you got to work on solutions.
New Hampshire and New England have identified the problem: our energy portfolio is dangerously reliant on natural gas, putting customers at risk for unpredictable prices because of pipeline constraints. And with several power plants retiring in the next few years, there may be a shortfall of available energy.
Energy developers and policy makers are coming up with ways to solve this problem, proposing new generation, transmission projects, and natural gas pipeline expansions. While all new energy projects face challenges, they should each be weighed as part of a broad solution to ensure there’ll be enough power to meet our near- and long-term needs.
Report: Gas pipeline not enough to avert New England energy crisis
The New England governors are looking for ways to pay for significant natural gas pipeline, seeking an additional billion cubic feet of capacity a day available to the region. But as this Union Leader article points out, that won’t be enough. One analyst writes, “Electricity prices have routinely doubled this winter … These prices have closed New England mills for weeks on end, strained home budgets and burdened New England’s economy uniquely among regions in the nation.” (Read the analyst report from Competitive Energy Services referenced in the article here.)
Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline owner wants to retrofit pipeline to bring gas from south (Bangor Daily News) & Tennessee Gas launches open season for New England pipe expansion (Platts)
These two articles show natural gas suppliers that have proposed building off of existing infrastructure to bring more natural gas to New England, a region that has been suffering from pipeline constraints. But neither of these plans alone will be enough to lower prices and fill the projected deficit of energy in the region.
Quadrupling solar energy use in Mass.
The state of Massachusetts recently announced its intent to double the amount of solar energy it generates from 400 megawatts to 1,600 megawatts at a cost of as much $1billion over the next 20 years. That works out to be a little more than dollar a month per utility customer. But as MA Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan says in this NECN interview, doing nothing will be far more costly than investing in solar and other renewable sources.
UPDATE: Energy Developers Critical, Environmentalists Hopeful On SEC Reform
Last week we drew your attention to a new bill, SB 245, which spells out reforms to the Site Evaluation Committee. The first hearing on that bill was Wednesday and this NHPR report sums up what happened. There was also a hearing on SB 200, which would mandate burying transmission lines along state transportation corridors. The AP report on that can be found here
We are constantly reminded of the fact that there is no one solution. In order to build a diverse, reliable and, preferably, clean portfolio, New England will need to welcome a diverse set of reliable and clean energy sources. We believe Northern Pass should be a part of that.
For the first time in several weeks the big news on the energy front isn’t about the cold weather – though that’s likely to return before the winter is through. This week’s biggest energy story looks a little further into the future. Three years to be exact, when the region’s grid operator says there will be a shortfall of the energy we’re likely to need.
This scenario is years in the making and will take years to solve. Market conditions, aging facilities, and a lack of new energy projects on the horizon are all factors that add up to a shortfall. Power plants are closing but, because of the regulatory process and other hurdles, projects that could make up for their loss are still years from coming online.
We need more sources of power, we need them to be diverse and renewable, and we need to be working on them now. Here’s a look at the problems darkening New England’s energy outlook:
The Nashua Telegraph’s “Granite Geek” takes a comprehensive look at all the factors that played into this year’s energy futures auction and the projected 2017 capacity shortfall.
The capacity shortfall anticipated for 2017 will have an impact on prices for most utility consumers. NHPR explains the relationship between the lower supply and higher energy costs.
New England will lose 600 megawatts of power when the Vermont Yankee power plant shuts down this year. The company that owns that plant, and another in Massachusetts, warns in this Forbes article that the region’s over-reliance on a single fuel source like natural gas threatens the viability of other power producers.
Despite warnings of blackouts and other complications, the owners of Brayton Point in Massachusetts have set a closing date of June 1st, 2017. As reported on South Coast Today, the company expects other projects would come on line that would eliminate the need to keep running.
There are as many as 10 proposals for new or expanded natural gas pipeline in New England, but much of that new energy won’t be available until 2018 at the earliest. Meanwhile, as Bloomberg Businessweek points out, power plants use of natural gas has jumped from producing 30% of our electricity in 2001 to 52% today, without a single new pipeline being built.
Continued weather extremes, including two bouts of a “polar vortex,” have exposed a major weakness in the way we generate electricity in New England. The problems created by our limited access to natural gas, which produces more than half of the region’s electricity during normal conditions, have gotten the attention of the nation’s top energy official. The region’s maxed-out natural gas capacity has also prompted New England’s governors to ask the region’s grid operator, ISO-New England, to help implement a plan that would have electricity customers pay the bill for additional energy projects.
Here are just a few of the headlines addressing these issues in recent weeks:
U.S. Energy Secretary Plans To Review New England’s Natural Gas Shortage
As the Hartford Courant reports, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is calling for a review of New England’s natural gas shortage.
Editorial: Wanted: New Natural Gas Pipelines
The Concord Monitor editorial page calls on New England’s governors to be proactive in their attempts to bring more natural gas to the region and educate the public about region’s need for more energy sources.
PSNH Power Key to Region’s Energy Security
PSNH’s Bill Quinlan writes an Op-Ed that appeared in many New Hampshire newspapers, including the Portsmouth Herald, about the importance of energy diversity under extreme circumstances.
Frozen Northeast Getting Gouged by Natural Gas Prices
Bloomberg Business Week takes a look at the effect natural gas pipeline constraints is having on the cost of natural gas – and in turn energy prices – in the Northeast.
Ratepayers Would Pick Up Gas Pipeline Tab Under New England Governors’ Proposal
The Union Leader reports on a recent letter the New England governors wrote to the region’s grid operator, recognizing the need for more energy projects and asking for help in devising a customer cost-sharing structure to pay for those investments.
‘Must run’ Coal Plant to Shut Down in 2017
Massachusetts’ Brayton Point coal-fired power plant will close in 2017 despite the objections and “must run” status issued by ISO-New England. The Boston Globe reports on the effect the plant’s closing may have on the regional grid.
Can Natural Gas Weather the Storm?
One Forbes analyst challenges New England’s – and America’s – natural gas future given the volatility exposed under this winter’s condition.
A Lot of Gas but Not Here: How Should New England Deal With its Natural Gas Appetite?
The Bangor Daily Sun works to explain New England’s complicated energy problems and how the governors’ proposal to increase pipeline and infrastructure may or may not address them.
As New England’s governors have recognized, the region needs a new and diverse energy sources. That includes both additional natural gas pipeline capacity and transmission infrastructure to connect New England with renewable, clean power projects. The problems we are seeing this winter will only get worse in the coming years with the retirement of several aging power plants, yet as the Concord Monitor pointed out, any potential solution will take years to develop and will likely face great opposition. This week’s news shows us, however, that both local and national leaders have recognized that building a diversity of new energy projects is our best bet in achieving a clean, reliable energy future.
The SB 361 Commission recently adopted its final report, and once again voted to reject controversial recommendations that a majority of its members believed were outside the scope of the Commission.
This follows a vote last month by the Commission members to adopt a draft report authored by the NH State Department of Transportation (NHDOT). That version of the report omitted controversial language from the original draft which had drawn criticism from State officials and members of the business community.
In the final report, the commission voted overwhelmingly against two recommendations:
Members pointed out that both of these recommendations were well outside the mission and scope of the commission. Additionally, we believe these recommendations would result in costly and unintended consequences for New Hampshire consumers and businesses.
The Commission’s findings include input from NHDOT on what possible corridor options currently exist. While the findings state it may be possible to place energy infrastructure in these designated corridors, the commission ultimately could not speak to whether such plans are economically feasible or whether they are technologically and environmentally sound ideas. The Commission also points out that these questions are often “typically site and project-specific.”
We look forward to continued discussions regarding New Hampshire’s energy future. Northern Pass will not only move us toward a renewable energy future, but will also reduce energy costs for customers and increase the diversity of our energy portfolio. We look forward to continuing our work with communities, policymakers, and other stakeholders to address concerns and determine the best path forward.
On Thursday, Oct. 31, 2012, a legislative commission established by Senate Bill 361 (Commission to Study the Feasibility of Establishing Energy Infrastructure Corridors within the Existing Transportation Rights of Way) voted 10-0 to endorse a draft report proposed by the NH State Department of Transportation (NHDOT). The NHDOT version of the report represents a vast improvement over the original draft. The NHDOT version omits controversial language from the original draft that drew criticism from State officials and members of the business community, who warned of the potential for higher electricity prices and government overreach.
Numerous members of the Commission then offered their own criticisms of the report. Specifically, members rejected the following recommendations:
Northern Pass (NPT) appreciates that the Commission strongly rejected the report recommendations listed above. As several members pointed out, those recommendations were beyond the scope of the Commission and threatened broader and costly consequences for New Hampshire consumers and businesses. We support the effort by the Commission to identify potentially viable corridor options for future energy projects. NPT joins state officials and members of the business community in urging the Commission to continue to respect private property rights and avoid overreaching government provisions that will increase bureaucracy and inevitably result in higher electricity costs for New Hampshire citizens.
The full NH Senate on June 2 voted 14 – 10 to “re-refer” HB648, a bill which sought to halt The Northern Pass by prohibiting the possible use of eminent domain in siting the project.
We opposed the bill, as did a number of business and labor groups. Additionally, newspaper editorials argued against the bill.
The re-referral allows the project to continue to work toward establishing a route that has the support of property owners. As a reminder, a new right-of-way is necessary in an area from Groveton north to the Quebec border. From Groveton south to Deerfield, we have proposed that the project be sited within rights-of-way where power lines already exist.
Editorials in The Union Leader and Fosters Daily Democrat today took positions in opposition of House Bill 648, which seeks to halt The Northern Pass by imposing additional restrictions on the state’s possible use of eminent domain.
“…The unintended consequences of this bill could be severe. As Northern Pass is still in the permitting stage, there is no hurry to pass it before its effects are fully understood. The Senate should hold this bill for further study.”
The Union Leader, June 2, 2011. Page A12.
After passing the House, the NH Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4 – 0 that the bill be re-referred, meaning that it would be considered and studied further. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the committee’s recommendation today.
Our perspective is that HB 648 would have far-reaching, unintended consequences for the entire state, hindering low-cost energy opportunities and precluding important transmission projects that would otherwise be built at no cost to New Hampshire customers.
The NH House of Representatives today passed, 317 – 51, an amended version of legislation which seeks to prohibit the taking of property as part of a transmission facility project.
We do not view House passage of the amended HB648 as halting The Northern Pass.
The project holds the potential for significant economic and environmental benefits for New Hampshire, and we remain optimistic that we can work with communities and with the Legislature to earn their ultimate support.
As we noted in an earlier Journal post, we believe that the amendment is misguided. What started out as a legislative effort to target one particular energy project has now been expanded in a way that will have far reaching unintended consequences for the entire state, and could impact the ability to provide cost effective electricity and to maintain efficient operation of the state’s electrical system.
If enacted, it would threaten, for example, an upgrade of the “Coös Loop,” which is not a system reliability project.
It would threaten the connection to the grid of any potential new renewable energy development, such as a North Country wind project – or other projects that could bring important environmental or economic benefits to the state – even if those projects enjoy broad support.
It would basically just say “no” to low-cost energy by precluding important transmission projects that would otherwise be built at no cost to customers.
HB648 now heads to the Senate.
The N.H. House Science, Technology and Energy Committee this week considered two bills that focus on halting The Northern Pass project. The full House is expected to consider the committee’s recommendations on Wednesday, March 30.
The committee voted to retain HB649, which would require a study of the project, separate from the required Site Evaluation Committee process, by a regional planning commission.
The committee approved an amended version of HB648, which would place restrictions on proposed transmission projects that are “not needed for system reliability.”
Here are our reflections on the impact of HB648 if it were enacted in the future: