A Massachusetts coal-fired power plant is heading toward retirement, making it the latest in a series of New England power plants to announce it will close its doors. The closing is seen by many as another step toward reaching New England’s clean energy goals; however, energy officials are concerned that these plant closings will threaten the region’s ability to make the power it needs to reliably meet the electricity demands.
Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset filed papers on Oct. 7 indicating it will no longer provide power to the New England energy grid after May 2017. When it closes, 1,500 megawatts of power generation capacity will be removed from the New England grid. Marcia Blomberg, a spokeswoman for ISO New England, told the Boston Globe that the New England power grid operator is studying potential effects of Brayton Point’s retirement and indicated it could ask Brayton remain open.
“We can’t prevent a resource from retiring, but if our study shows that a resource is needed for reliability,” she said, “they don’t have to stay, but we can ask.”
One of ISO-New England’s main roles is to project the region’s energy needs in the years ahead, as well as analyzing whether the region has the generation capacity to meet those needs. . Following a recent review of 2017-2018, an ISO memo reported a projected shortfall. If all the plants set to close retire as planned, the memo states, the New England grid will fall 1,540 megawatts below its capacity requirements, meaning the region’s available power plants could no longer provide enough power to reliably meet demand.
The ISO-New England memo says the forecast “is indicative that the region will require new capacity to satisfy” New England’s energy needs.
Another indication that New England will require additional sources of energy is last winter’s natural gas supply crunch. As we wrote about in a previous post, ISO-New England came close to imposing blackouts last winter due to constraints on the supply of natural gas that the region depends on for electrical generation.
“If we had lost one more big generator or a transmission line, we would have had to resort to our emergency procedures,” Executive Vice President and CEO for ISO-New England Vamsi Chadalavada told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Those procedures are to call on help from neighboring areas, then to call for voluntary conservation, and if that’s not sufficient, to institute controlled power outages … We came quite close.”
If New England’s power grid was strained during a normal winter, the recent announcement that Brayton Point will retire – as well as other power plants like Vermont Yankee – only adds to concerns that New England is coming close to being unable to meet its energy needs.
Looking further into the future, ISO-New England projects roughly 25 percent of New England’s power plants are headed for retirement by 2020, representing 8,300 megawatts of electricity generation. ISO-New England estimates that more than 5,000 megawatts of new generation will be needed to meet the region’s needs, but where that energy will come from is uncertain.
We believe that providing access to the 1,200 megawatts of clean hydropower from the Northern Pass can help fill this energy gap. The project will provide a base load source of clean, renewable energy available for regular use and during times of peak demand. Shifting from fossil fuels to more renewable sources of energy is a positive step for New England, but as older power plants close, new energy projects like Northern Pass must be developed to ensure there is enough power for the millions of homes and businesses throughout New Hampshire and New England.
According to an article in the most recent New Hampshire Sunday News, electric customers across the state are beginning to feel the impact of rising natural gas prices as winter approaches and gas supplies tighten. From the Sunday News report:
“Rates we are seeing upcoming for this winter certainly reflect the market conditions,” Tom Frantz, director of the electric division for the PUC, said in testimony before a legislative oversight committee on Wednesday. He cited the rising price of natural gas, which fuels most power plants in the region, as a major factor.
With the region’s growing over-reliance on natural gas, news of rising prices this winter is not surprising. In our view, it is clear that New Hampshire and New England need fuel diversity to protect against the volatility of natural gas prices and reliability concerns during periods of peak demand.
Just this past July, New Hampshire saw volatile swings in energy market prices during a week-long heat wave when regional regulators, in an effort to keep the grid running, dispatched thousands of megawatts of rarely used oil-fired generation and called on customers to conserve energy.
This follows what was a turbulent winter for the grid with regulators reporting that the region came dangerously close to imposed blackouts due to constraints on the supply of natural gas that fuels most the region’s power plants.
This recent news underscores that now more than ever, we need new sources of clean, low cost power, like that of the Northern Pass, to diversify our power supply and secure our energy future.
The full Sunday News article is available here.
“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
An opinion column by Marc Brown of the New England Ratepayers Association has been published in several newspapers recently, focusing on the future reliability of our region’s energy grid in the wake of news that Vermont Yankee will close in 2014.
Mr. Brown writes…
“The Vermont Yankee announcement means that New England ratepayers will be even more beholden to the fluctuations of the natural gas markets and the intermittency of when the wind blows. More fuel diversity for reliable, affordable baseload power is needed.”
We agree and have noted on several occasions that the region’s growing dependency on natural gas, which ISO cites as the top risk factor facing the region, is a critical challenge that must be addressed through fuel diversity and the development of new sources of clean, low-cost energy, like that of the Northern Pass.
Mr. Brown also notes that with the expected retirement of more generators, Northern Pass should be part of the region’s future energy mix…
“The likelihood of new nuclear or coal plants being built in New England is slim to none. Combine that with a restricted pipeline capacity that will handcuff natural gas generators, and you have limited options to a dwindling baseload power supply that has become over-reliant on natural gas. ISO has gone on record as stating that we are going to have to replace an expected 8,000 megawatts of retired capacity in the not-too-distant future. With the closing of one of the last nuclear plants in the region, Northern Pass is going to have to be part of the solution.”
The full column is available here.
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.
Over the past several weeks there has been a steady stream of news reports from across New England regarding the region’s over-reliance on natural gas and the serious challenges it caused the electric grid this winter.
We share the concerns that ISO-New England and others have expressed. With our over-reliance on natural gas now threatening the reliability of the region’s energy grid, the need for the Northern Pass project is clear, and we are working hard to advance the project so that it will help to address this critical issue.
The project’s top priorities in developing a new route have and continue to be to bring forth the best proposal for New Hampshire, and to address the concerns raised with our first routing proposal regarding the project’s potential effect on views. Our work to achieve these goals continues.
Although we have identified a new route which meets our project requirements, we believe it is in the best of interest of landowners, communities, and all stakeholders for us to continue to build on the details of this proposal and to take the time now to make some additional refinements before we begin the formal public review processes at both the state and federal levels.
It is clear now, more than ever, that the region needs new sources of clean, low cost power to diversify our power supply and secure our energy future. The Northern Pass will help to provide that energy diversity, while creating new jobs and tax revenue for New Hampshire – all at no cost to customers.
When the New England Power Generators Association (NEPGA) recently issued a new position paper, one might have assumed it was in response to recent warnings from ISO-New England regarding the region’s over-reliance on natural gas. ISO ranks that issue as the number one concern for the region, and recently explained the very real prospect of blackouts, price volatility, and fuel shortages unless the region can find solutions.
Instead, NEPGA turned a blind eye to this serious threat to our energy future and continued its attack on a real solution – Northern Pass. Why would NEPGA be opposed to adding 1200 MW of clean, base load energy to New Hampshire and the region? At a time when regulators, policy makers and customers are looking for solutions to our long-term energy needs, NEPGA appears to be looking out for its bottom line. NEPGA’s own fact sheet boasts that it controls more than 84 percent of all New England’s existing generation. It’s clear that Northern Pass concerns NEPGA because the clean hydro-power the project will deliver will displace the more expensive fossil fuels produced by NEPGA’s members.
Diversifying the region’s energy portfolio must be a part of our energy future if we are to address the significant challenges ISO-New England has identified. The clean, renewable, low cost, hydroelectric power of Northern Pass will provide New Hampshire and New England with energy diversity, while lowering energy costs and creating new jobs and tax revenue for New Hampshire.
At a meeting of ISO-New England’s Consumer Liaison Group last week, officials again warned of the risks associated with the region’s over-reliance on natural gas. This most recent warning, however, was considerably more serious than ISO-NE leadership has shared previously.
In a Sunday news story, Vamsi Chadalavada, ISO-NE Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, told Dave Solomon of the New Hampshire Union Leader that ISO had come close to imposing blackouts due to constraints on the supply of natural gas that fuels most the region’s power plants.
“If we had lost one more big generator or a transmission line, we would have had to resort to our emergency procedures,” said Vamsi Chadalavada, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Independent System Operator of the New England power grid (ISO-NE), based in Holyoke, Mass. “Those procedures are to call on help from neighboring areas, then to call for voluntary conservation, and if that’s not sufficient, to institute controlled power outages … We came quite close.”
In another Sunday news story, Nashua Telegraph writer David Brooks reported similar comments from New Hampshire Public Utilities Commissioner Michael Harrington, who stated, “This was a normal January and February, yet we came very close to having rolling blackouts. What happens if we have a very cold winter? We could be in trouble.”
While this issue of New England’s over-reliance on natural gas has been making news since last summer, it’s clear the close call the region experienced this winter is bringing this issue into greater focus.
Diversifying the region’s energy portfolio must be a major component of any solution to address this issue, as well as considering New England’s pipeline capacity. Northern Pass will not only bring diversity to the region’s energy portfolio, but will also drive down energy costs while creating jobs and millions in new tax revenues in New Hampshire. Given the short term risks to the grid that are now becoming apparent, the ability for Northern Pass be in operation as soon as late 2016 to mid-2017 provides further value to New England.
It is interesting to consider this recent news and the prospect of blackouts in New England at a time when some continue to claim Northern Pass is not needed. The facts tell a different story. More than ever, we need new sources of clean, low cost power to diversify our power supply and secure our energy future. Simply put, energy diversity equals energy security. Northern Pass will help provide that diversity to our energy portfolio while creating new jobs and tax revenue for New Hampshire – all at no cost to customers.
At the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association’s Annual Energy Forum this week Gordon van Welie, President of ISO New England, continued to cite our dependence on natural gas as the region’s “highest-priority strategic risk.” In his presentation, Mr. van Welie noted that a recent ISO study found that 8,300 megawatts of generating capacity are at risk of retirement by 2020 and that new capacity will be needed to cover a 6,000 megawatt shortfall in the future.
These comments follow more recent warnings from ISO that our growing over-reliance on natural gas as a fuel for generating electricity is a major challenge for the region. In a July column in Commonwealth magazine, van Welie, noted “It’s evident that generating electricity with natural gas has its benefits. But becoming heavily reliant on just one fuel poses challenges to the long-term stability of the power system.”
Meeting these future challenges requires planning and action now. Northern Pass represents an ideal solution for New Hampshire and the region by not only diversifying our energy portfolio, but also lowering our energy costs and reducing carbon emissions, with no customer subsidy required.