An inconvenient truth
New England needs two new natural gas pipelines; long-term, LNG is not the answer
An op-ed from Marcy Reed about the need for two natural gas lines in New England was published in CommonWealth Magazine. Here’s the full article as it appears on the CommonWealth Magazine website.
WE NEW ENGLANDERS are a hardy bunch. We put up with nasty winters, brutal traffic, and we waited nearly a century for our beloved Sox to beat the dreaded Curse of the Bambino. But now many of us are saying uncle to one thing (OK, maybe two if you count this winter) – high energy bills. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, only Hawaii and Alaska had higher electric rates than New England this January.
Residents, large and small business owners, communities, and policymakers want affordable, cleaner, safe, reliable, secure, and stable energy. But how do we make that happen?
There are myriad proposals in play right now – gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, wind farms, the list goes on and on. So how do we get to a sustainable long-term energy future where we can still afford electricity and groceries? The inconvenient truth is, there is no single silver bullet that will deliver what we need and want. Rather, it will take a portfolio of solutions.
Let’s start with “affordable.” The region’s current high prices are the result of a basic supply and demand issue. In 2000, 15 percent of New England’s electric energy production was from generators fueled by gas. By 2014, that number had risen to about 44 percent. Meanwhile, pipeline capacity for gas transmission into New England has not kept pace.
As a result, there is simply not enough gas coming into the region to reliably or affordably power these plants and meet the needs of millions of residential and commercial gas customers. As the region’s older, dirtier plants continue to retire and new, cleaner gas-fired plants replace them, the situation will only get worse. In fact, about 63 percent of the region’s 11,000 megawatts of proposed new generation is gas-fired. The problem is so severe that some local gas companies already have been forced to turn away new customers because they won’t have enough gas in a few years to be able to serve them.
Two pipelines have been proposed to bring more gas to New England. There has been much discussion about the design and capabilities of both projects, including whether one or the other customers, and allow new customers to make natural gas their fuel of choice over oil.
The inconvenient truth is we need both projects. Some say we can solve the problem by continuing to increase the imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Let’s be clear – there is a role for LNG in helping to shore up gas capacity. But wouldn’t it make more sense to add new pipeline capacity to gain access to the abundant and much lower-priced, domestic gas supplies available just outside our region? Then we could liquefy and store some of that gas, as needed, rather than continuing to gamble on imports from other countries halfway around the world?
It’s also worth noting that imported LNG typically goes to the world’s highest bidders. This winter, because our access to the lower priced domestic gas was constrained, New England was one of the highest bidders for world LNG imports. That is not something to be proud of, nor is it a reliable or economical long-term solution. Next winter someone else could be the highest bidder, which means more upward pressure on regional electricity prices.
Now let’s talk about “cleaner.” New England policymakers have made great strides in enabling the greening of the region’s energy landscape. Solar energy is rapidly increasing in popularity among residents, business owners, communities and utilities and that’s a good thing. Thirty-six percent of the region’s proposed new generation is wind-powered. The developers of Rhode Island’s offshore Deepwater Wind project recently announced that they had secured all of their financing, which means it could be the first-of-its-kind project in the country. Some folks are even pushing to be “all-renewable” by 2050.
Here’s the inconvenient part – while we’ve made very significant progress increasing clean energy resources in the region, we haven’t even begun to make a dent in what’s needed to meet existing state renewable requirements, never mind trying to go all-renewable. To get an abundant, reliable, and stable supply of renewable energy will take time because we need new long-haul electric transmission to access the vast, clean energy resources in northern New England and Canada.
We believe one of our best, and most affordable, renewable options is a combination of onshore wind backstopped by hydropower, such as the proposed Maine Green Line, which is expected to be in service in 2018. Yes, we should aim for an all-renewable regional energy supply but it won’t happen overnight. That being said, action is needed now to get projects such as the Maine Green Line in service as quickly as possible.
Other important energy initiatives in New England are helping to move the ball forward. Massachusetts has its grid modernization effort, designed to create a cleaner, more efficient, and reliable grid that will empower customers to manage and reduce their energy costs. Rhode Island’s Infrastructure Safety and Reliability Plan is intended to achieve a safe and reliable power system. For the fourth consecutive year, Massachusetts has been named the nation’s most energy efficient state, with Rhode Island also in the top 10. Across the Bay State, National Grid is in the process of permitting and building 19 new solar facilities to add to the fleet of five it already owns.
Collectively these programs and initiatives have helped New Englanders save billions of dollars on energy costs and significantly lowered greenhouse gas emissions, enabling us to breathe easier. That being said, perhaps the most inconvenient truth of all is that our energy challenges are regional in nature and scope and they require regional solutions.
But hope is on the horizon. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut recently announced a joint request for proposals for clean energy projects to serve all three states. And next week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker will host all of the New England governors for a summit on regional energy issues. We hope that meeting will result in a proposal that will make these energy truths a lot more convenient.
Read more about our advocacy for a two-pipeline solution in New England: