Northern Pass stands alone as the only project in New England that requires no customer subsidy and will bring clean, low-cost hydro power along with direct and substantial economic benefits to New Hampshire. Northern Pass has a proposed route and a firm agreement with an energy supplier (Hydro Québec) to pay the project costs.
Everyone agrees that New England is in serious need of new sources of base load energy to meet future energy demands. The power grid operator, ISO New England, projects that 8,000 megawatts of generating capacity are at risk of retiring by 2020, and, in just the last month, we’ve seen actual announcements that more than 2,000 megawatts of energy will soon be gone. As a region, the ISO projects we need to construct more than 5,000 megawatts of new generation assets in the coming years to keep the grid running. Northern Pass is a large part of the solution, and yet the region must continue to look for additional new energy sources.
TDI New England, a private transmission line developer, this week announced a proposal to construct a 1,000 megawatt line to connect a yet-to-be determined energy source from Québec to New England. The proposal calls for a line placed underwater for 100 miles through Lake Champlain and then underground for 50 miles through Vermont along an undetermined route.
Instead of putting such a proposal in the perspective of the region’s larger energy challenges, some groups are using the announcement as an opportunity to attack Northern Pass and to mislead the public by making “apples to oranges” comparisons. It is an unfortunate reality that these groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Forest Society, are willing to put their own special interests and fundraising campaigns before the needs of the region.
This new proposal is an interesting concept but it is disingenuous to compare it to Northern Pass. It joins other merchant project trial balloons that may never get off the ground. Northern Pass is farther along compared to this and other conceptual proposals, and is positioned very well to earn required permits and move forward. Since announcing the project three years ago and unveiling our improved route in June of this year, we’ve made significant headway toward clearing regulatory and technical hurdles, and anticipate beginning operations in 2017. There are several other fundamental differences between Northern Pass and this new TDI proposal, including:
We take it as a positive sign that others are proposing solutions to meet the region’s significant energy challenges. All proposals need to be considered, and it is clear that no single “silver bullet” project will address all the region’s challenges at once. Meanwhile, the facts are clear that Northern Pass is a legitimate project with a firm partner, proven technology, a viable route, and will bring direct and substantial economic, energy, and environmental benefits to New Hampshire and New England.
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.
What the project will look like and where it will be visible are among the most common questions we hear from residents and landowners. These discussions, unfortunately, are often subject to misinformation, speculation, and inaccurate conclusions of what the actual visual impact of the project will be.
Fortunately, a process is in place to provide clear, factual answers. The state and federal permitting process require professional view impact assessments produced by independent experts. The public deserves no less than a thorough analysis done by such experts, and based on accurate data.
We raise this issue because, yet again, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is providing misleading information to the public about the potential visual impacts of the project. The AMC recently released a series of videos that claim to show the project’s visual impacts. In reality, the videos do not conform to any widely accepted visual assessment methodologies, and do not offer an accurate visual assessment of the project.
AMC suggests that the videos depict the “highest visual impacts” within a ½ mile of the project, with no qualification of the nature of that visibility, other than the potential number of structures visible. In accepted visual impact assessment methodologies, visibility alone is not considered to be an adverse or unacceptable impact. That determination is made by considering additional factors such as viewing distance, how much of the individual structures are visible, the height, type and color of those structures, the context within which the structures are viewed, and the sensitivity of the resource or viewing locations. In addition, no explanation was provided to indicate how “tower visibility” was determined or whether the video accounted for topography and tree heights (It did not).
Rather than provide this important data and analysis, the AMC video instead relies on generalities and overly broad assertions that are not supported by facts and ignore the methodologies commonly employed by visual experts.
It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that AMC has opted to again mislead the public on this issue. The organization has made its opposition to Northern Pass publicly known in many forums, and has used the project as a fundraising tool. The AMC has a clear bias and we believe it is incapable of providing a fair analysis of the project.
The federal and state permitting processes, which require Northern Pass to use professional visual experts and accepted methodologies, will provide the public with an accurate, clear, factual assessment of the visual impacts of the project.
Whether it is wind, solar, new transmission lines, or a power plant – all energy projects carry impacts of varying degrees. Northern Pass is no different, but the public consideration of the project’s impacts, including its tremendous energy, economic, and environmental benefits, must be based on facts.
“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.
LandWorks, an independent firm skilled in landscape study, is working on the development of a visual impact analysis which is a necessary component of the project’s permitting process.
The firm has recently authored a document describing how that analysis will be produced.
In related news, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), which has previously stated that it is opposed to The Northern Pass project, has produced a document critical of the work that is still to be done by LandWorks. Unfortunately, in an attempt to stop a clean energy project that will bring much needed jobs and low-cost power to New Hampshire, the club has chosen to misrepresent the actual process for evaluating potential view impacts.
What AMC is calling its “visual impact assessment” is, in fact, a deeply flawed document written by club staff with no apparent qualifications or experience conducting a professional visual impact assessment.