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
Low temps and high energy prices highlight challenges facing regional energy grid
The past week has brought us some typical New England winter weather, including bitterly cold temperatures and a good deal of snow. These wintry conditions are what we have come to expect this time of year, but it’s been anything but normal on the region’s energy grid.
The region relies heavily on natural gas as a fuel source for electricity, but natural gas supplies are tight because of limited space on the pipeline supplying New England. This has led to price spikes on the wholesale market. Normal prices of $30 to $40 per megawatt hour have increased up to 5 times the normal cost and fluctuated between $100 to $200 per megawatt hour.
In one instance this past weekend, prices rose to $1,000 per megawatt hour and grid operators, ISO-New England, was forced to implement a series of emergency measures to maintain the reliability of the grid and avoid power outages. It asked for a delay in any routine maintenance or testing that would affect power generation or transmission, and on Saturday, it tapped emergency reserves and bought the power it needed from the New York energy grid.
With limited gas supplies and rising prices, power generators are increasing their use of coal and oil to keep the lights on. In fact, the region “maxed out” all the available coal and nuclear resources in the region for prolonged stretches during the past week. This should make New Englanders take note – especially our elected leaders and policy makers. The region is anticipating several high-profile coal and nuclear plants will close in the come years, like Vermont Yankee and Brayton Point.
The operation of the grid during the conditions of the past week adds further to the mounting evidence that New England needs to develop new sources of clean, low-cost, and reliable energy. Northern Pass is a proposed transmission line that would bring clean, renewable hydropower from Canada into the New England power grid, and we believe is part of the region’s energy solution.
Here’s how Northern Pass can help New England meet its clean energy goals:
ICYMI: Recent news about New England’s energy supply crunch
“Region’s electric grid feeling strain of cold-weather demand” New Hampshire Union Leader, Dec. 18
“It’s time to list to the region’s energy experts,” The Salem News, Dec. 17
“New England narrowly escapes power outages,” Forbes Magazine online, Dec. 15
“NE Governors’ game-plan for energy boost,” Hartford Courant, Dec. 13
“Tight pipelines hinder natural gas chance,” New Hampshire Union Leader, Dec. 11
“Is Boston the new Japan?” Real Clear Energy, Dec. 9
“The horrible lack of planning that could force New England into a serious energy crisis this winter,” Forbes Magazine, Dec. 5
Recently, the New England Power Generators Association (NEPGA) filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding concerns it has with the design of ISO New England’s Forward Capacity Market. The complaint also includes several important comments from the trade group on the state of the regional energy market and its future reliability.
In the complaint, NEPGA states New England is facing an “impending reliability crisis” and that the regional energy market is in “distress” as the retirement of existing power plants is expected to create a “shortfall of more than 1500 megawatts in the next forward capacity auction,” which is a process ISO uses to incent development of assets needed for future energy needs.
NEPGA also states that absent changes to the market, it expects “the continuing retirement of economic resources, erosion of critical fuel diversity in the region, higher long term costs to consumers.”
We are pleased to see NEPGA is finally recognizing the significant challenges facing the regional energy market. We have made the case for more than two years that New England’s growing over-reliance on natural gas and the projected loss of 8000 megawatts of generation assets threatens the reliable operation of the grid and exposes customers to volatile prices and higher costs.
Northern Pass is a real and practical solution to the region’s energy challenges that will also bring direct and substantial economic benefits to New Hampshire. The project will deliver 1200 megawatts of clean, low-cost hydropower to New Hampshire, reducing energy costs and providing the region with much needed fuel diversity. Northern Pass stands alone as the only proposed source of new base load energy that is in a position to help the region meet its future energy needs.
The governors of the six New England states announced on Thursday their commitment to work together on the energy challenges that face the region. This historic agreement sets the groundwork for future energy development that will lower energy costs, ensure power grid reliability and expand the use of clean, renewable energy. In their joint statement, the governors say:
“We believe that by working together we can expand economic development, promote job growth, improve the competitiveness of our industries, enhance system reliability, and protect and increase the quality of life of our citizens. Expanding our existing efforts will ensure that we are on a course toward a transformed energy, environment, and economic future for our region that offers a model for the nation.”
We agree. This is a positive development for our region and further shows why powering New Hampshire into the future is not only a state issue, but also a regional one. Today, we released the following statement:
We are pleased to see the New England Governors working cooperatively on the significant energy challenges facing our region. There is a clear need to develop new sources of clean and reliable energy that will both lower energy costs and reduce carbon emissions. ISO-New England consistently warns that our region is over-reliant on natural gas and is about to experience the major loss of power generation through the retirement and closure of plants. We have a unique and exciting opportunity to transform our energy future.
We believe Northern Pass is an ideal fit with the goals outlined in this agreement. We understand that regional leaders must consider a multitude of options to address our energy challenges; no other project in all of New England comes closer to being able to deliver – any sooner or more economically – than Northern Pass.
We look forward to working with Governor Hassan and all of our partners in the region in the months ahead.
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.
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.
In our view, it is added evidence of the need for, and the benefit of, the Northern Pass project.
It is somewhat ironic that one of the key reasons cited for the closing of Vermont Yankee is the region’s increasing reliance on a single fuel, natural gas, to supply most of New England’s electricity. The fact is that the loss of Vermont Yankee’s 600 megawatts of energy will result in an even greater dependence on natural gas.
Recall that the operator of the region’s power grid, ISO-New England, has cited the risk of New England’s dependence on natural gas as the region’s number one challenge:
“…the region’s growing dependence on natural gas and its related issues have been a consistent concern during winter, when the priority for natural gas supplies goes to heating New England’s homes and businesses. But as the use of natural gas has increased, this dependence has become a major challenge for managing the electric grid throughout the year…”
ISO-NE 2013 Regional Electricity Outlook
The Northern Pass project will provide a measure of necessary diversity to our power grid, providing New Hampshire and all the New England states with 1,200 megawatts of clean, economical, renewable energy from hydroelectric power generation facilities. That is critical as the region looks to most effectively deal with the retirement of Vermont Yankee, as well as the loss of additional existing generation sources that are at risk of retirement.
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.