“New England needs new energy sources soon, and Northern Pass’ offer of relatively green, relatively cheap Canadian hydropower is one of the best available options. It would be a mistake not to pursue it.” – Boston Globe Editorial September 15th 2013
The need to shift the region’s electricity production toward cleaner and more sustainable resources has been part of the energy conversation in New England for more than a decade. We see Northern Pass as part of the long-term plan to move toward renewable sources by importing 1,200 megawatts of low-cost, renewable hydropower. This energy, when it enters the marketplace, will be available to off-set energy generation from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, helping the region reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the region’s most prominent newspapers, the Boston Globe, pointed to Northern Pass’ environmental benefits in an editorial this weekend endorsing the project. The editors are concerned about the need for new energy sources as older fossil-fuel burning plants retire in coming decades. Like us here at Northern Pass, they see wind and solar as part of the equation, but realize it is not a reliable enough source to be the only solution.
The Boston Globe notes that “over the lifespan of the dam, hydropower adds much less CO2 to the environment than fossil fuels, and the Northern Pass project will help New England reduce its carbon footprint significantly — especially if it’s supplemented by other renewables.”
The newspaper also recognizes that New England’s growing reliance on natural gas, a dependence that the region’s power grid operator has termed its most critical challenge. “As of 2011, over half of all of the region’s current power comes from natural gas, which is relatively difficult to transport and nearly impossible to store at power plants,” the Globe says. “This situation also leaves New England dangerously susceptible to price changes.”
By adding Northern Pass’ steady stream of hydropower to the New England power mix, there will be a cleaner source of low-cost energy available to smooth out price volatility during times of peak usage when demand is up and gas supplies are tight.
New Hampshire is part of the New England energy grid, which means concerns about our energy future are also the concerns of those living in Maine, Massachusetts or Vermont. The commitment to use more renewable energy sources has been made across all six states. Northern Pass believes it can be part of the region’s shift toward renewable energy, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and a more secure energy future.
You can read the entire Boston Globe editorial here.
New Hampshire residents have a long history of supporting environmentally responsible policy and being ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to addressing the challenges of climate change. The state is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and it supports using more renewable energy sources.
Recently, Entergy Corporation announced it will cease operations at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant next year, taking its 600 megawatts of carbon-free energy production out of the New England power grid. On Sunday, Entergy’s Pilgrim nuclear plant in Massachusetts was taken offline for a second time in three weeks because of a steam leak, temporarily removing its nearly 700 megawatts of carbon-free energy production out of the power grid system.
Because natural gas is the predominant power fuel in the region, the temporary shutdown of Pilgrim and the soon-to-be permanent loss of Vermont Yankee will result in an even greater reliance on natural gas and a related increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
We recently wrote a journal post about Vermont Yankee and its effect on the region’s growing dependence on natural gas. This past winter, newspapers from the New York Times to the New Hampshire Union Leader also wrote about the region’s heavy reliance on natural gas and the concern of ISO New England that it could drive up electricity costs and put the reliability of the region’s power grid at risk.
We believe the hydroelectric energy transmitted by the Northern Pass will provide much-needed diversity, lessening price volatility and the chance of spot shortages. It will bring into the region 1,200 megawatts of clean, renewable energy, which would more than off-set the loss of Vermont Yankee, and it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 5 million tons annually; the equivalent of taking 900,000 cars off the road.
We aren’t the only ones who agree that Canadian hydropower will bring us cleaner air and reduced carbon emissions. In 2009, we saw representatives from the business community, environmental and conservation groups and the energy industry come together and craft a comprehensive New Hampshire Climate Action Plan that was meant to guide state policy in future years.
In that plan, a majority of members recommended building high voltage power lines connecting New Hampshire to hydropower plants in Canada. Page 44 of the Climate Action Task Force’s final report notes:
“To the extent that it reduces or does not raise electricity rates to the consumer, high voltage transmission lines should be built to import clean power generated from Canadian hydro and wind sources as a complementary policy to developing non-CO2-emitting generation in New Hampshire.”
President of NH Renewable Energy Policy Development Gary A. Long said the Northern Pass will move New Hampshire and the region toward a cleaner and more stable energy future. As we continue to see an over-reliance on a single fossil fuel, it is more important than ever to consider our energy future and support projects like Northern Pass.
*This post was revised to include the direct quote from the New Hampshire Climate Action Plan
Last week’s heat wave brought considerable pressure on New England’s energy grid and underscored the need to develop new sources of clean, reliable, low-cost energy. The six day long heat wave nearly broke records for demand both in New Hampshire and across the region. On the hottest day of the week, Friday, New England’s energy demand peaked at 27,377 megawatts, only 800 megawatts short of the all-time record. On the same day in New Hampshire, energy demand peaked at 2,210 megawatts, only 40 megawatts short of the all-time state record.
This prolonged period of high demand led to calls from ISO-New England to conserve electricity, created volatile swings in energy prices throughout the week, and brought significant changes to the region’s normal fuel mix. Energy prices fluctuated regularly from its normal average of about $38 per megawatt/hour to prices five to ten times greater, and, at one point even reached prices more than 17 times greater at over $600 per megawatt/hour.
Near record demand and high prices meant the costliest generation sources across the region were called on to keep the grid running. Oil-fired generation, which is rarely dispatched due to its high fuel costs, was called on heavily throughout the week. At one point during the heat wave, more than 3,500 megawatts of oil-fired generation in New England was running (more than 70% of the region’s oil-fired capacity), making it the third most used generation source behind only natural gas and nuclear and well ahead of coal, hydro, and all renewable generation sources.
New sources of clean, reliable, low-cost energy, like that of the Northern Pass project, would help the region better manage the grid through periods of high demand like last week. The 1200 megawatts of clean hydroelectric power of the Northern Pass would displace the need to call on some higher price, carbon emitting generation alternatives and provide a measure of price stability during a time when price spikes and volatility are common. The operation of the existing Hydro Quebec “Phase II” HVDC transmission line during last week’s heat wave provides an ideal example of the potential value of the Northern Pass during a period of high demand. The HQ Phase II line, which transports the same type of hydroelectric power that Northern Pass proposes to deliver, was the single largest source of energy for New England each day of the heat wave.
*Real time energy grid data from ISO to Go mobile application.
Hydro Quebec recently responded to a study commissioned by the Conservation Law Foundation challenging the amount of carbon (CO2) emissions that may be reduced as a result of The Northern Pass offsetting energy produced by the burning of fossil fuels.
From the HQ response:
The facts on hydropower emissions, using a life-cycle analysis approach over a period of 100 years, are actually quite simple. Québec hydropower emissions are:
•similar to those from wind power
•only a quarter of those from photovoltaic solar facilities
•40 times less than those from a gas-fired power plant
•about 100 times less than those from a coal-fired plant.
The Plan’s recommended actions include the importation of hydro power from Quebec; a project like The Northern Pass.
“…The Task Force recommends that New Hampshire strive to
achieve a long-term reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of
80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050…”
Is it any wonder that the New Hampshire Climate Change Policy Task Force recommended 67 separate actions as a means toward achieving its aggressive goal to significantly reduce emissions of carbon? The fact is that there is no one single solution to the challenge.
The Plan’s recommendations run the gamut – from honing energy efficiency programs, to promoting stricter fuel economy standards.
One action of the 67 is particularly relevant to The Northern Pass project:
Enable Importation of Canadian Hydro and Wind Generation
“…To the extent that it reduces or does not raise electricity rates to the consumer, high voltage transmission lines should be built to import clean power generated from Canadian hydro and wind sources as a complementary policy to developing non-CO2-emitting generation in New Hampshire. Canada is developing vast new hydro and wind generation resources, which are greater than their local needs. This creates an opportunity for New Hampshire and the entire Northeast to obtain clean power…”
The fact is, there is little debate in New Hampshire or elsewhere on whether or not hydropower from Canada will result in reduced carbon emissions. It will. The challenge is over how to import such energy; how to transmit that low carbon energy in a manner that makes sense from both an economic and engineering perspective – and, that also is respectful of New Hampshire’s environment and natural landscape.
That is why we found it surprising that the Conservation Law Foundation would expend resources to purchase a study challenging the total carbon reduction that may be achieved when The Northern Pass is complete.
It is ironic, too, in that the developers of the CLF study, Synapse Energy, is the same firm that touted a similar hydropower project as a replacement for the energy produced by a nuclear power plant – which emits zero carbon:
“…(T)he Champlain Hudson Power Express … would connect Quebec to New York City. It will bring a significant amount of renewable generation directly to New York City…”
Indian Point Energy Center Nuclear Plant Retirement Analysis
Synapse Energy Economics, Inc, Oct. 2011
We want to assure the CLF that we share its interest and commitment to protecting and improving New England’s environment. In keeping with the NH Climate Action Plan, we believe that The Northern Pass can be an effective part of a comprehensive overall strategy to reduce emissions of carbon.
In his 30-year career with Hydro-Québec (HQ), scientist Claude Demers (now retired) conducted extensive research into the environmental impacts associated with the development of man-made hydroelectric reservoirs. This work included the measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions levels associated with the development of HQ’s Eastmain 1 Reservoir, as well as the measurement of GHG emissions from existing man-made hydroelectric reservoirs and naturally occurring water bodies in northern Québec.
In this brief video, Demers reports that GHG emissions associated with HQ’s man-made hydroelectric reservoirs are very low, and are comparable to neighboring, naturally occurring water bodies.