By: Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and his counterparts in the other New England states are pursuing a multibillion-dollar effort to import more natural gas and low-carbon electricity into the region. Few details on the power play have been released so far, but the three-pronged initiative should begin to take shape at a Massachusetts hearing Tuesday on a key piece of legislation.
The legislation authorizes electric utilities in Massachusetts to begin soliciting bids on June 1 for 2,400 megawatts of clean energy, enough to replace power being lost due to upcoming coal and nuclear plant shutdowns in the region. The bids, with an estimated value of about $1.5 billion a year for 20 to 25 years, would bring in as much electricity as two Seabrook power plants. Officials say Connecticut and Rhode Island are launching similar bid processes.
The Massachusetts legislation, scheduled for a hearing before the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee, defines clean energy as any of the ratepayer-subsidized renewable forms of electricity, including solar and wind power. But the bill also goes further, allowing hydroelectricity from Canada to be included in the bid process. The hydroelectricity would qualify as clean energy for purposes of the legislation but wouldn’t qualify for the ratepayer subsidies most renewables receive.
The Massachusetts bill also authorizes state officials to participate in a region-wide effort to build a transmission line to deliver the clean power into the region. The line would be paid for by all New England ratepayers, but who would handle the competitive bidding process and how much each state’s residents would pay on their electric bills for the line hasn’t been determined yet.
The heavily populated southern New England states use the most electricity in the region and would presumably pay the bulk of the transmission line’s cost. But the transmission line would benefit all six states in the region by reducing greenhouse gases and diversifying New England’s fuel mix for electricity. The bill could also be a special boon for Maine because the transmission line could make it economical to develop wind power in remote areas of that state and deliver the electricity to southern New England where most of the region’s customers are located.
Edward Krapels, the chief executive officer of Anbaric Transmission, which wants to build a power line from Maine’s Aroostook County down into Massachusetts, said the line would carry wind-generated electricity and tap Canadian hydro to fill in when the wind isn’t blowing. He said his company’s proposal, unlike other initiatives focused primarily on Canadian hydro, would help New England states meet their renewable energy targets and also achieve the broader goal of reducing carbon emissions.
“We’re a twofer,” he said. “We give you both.”
The New England governors are also exploring the possibility of adding a natural gas tariff to customer electric bills to finance an expansion of natural gas pipelines coming into the region. Stephen Clarke, the Massachusetts assistant secretary of energy, said the governors are investigating the surcharge as well as other proposals to increase the flow of natural gas.
It may seem odd to place a surcharge on electricity bills to increase the region’s supply of natural gas, but gas has become the dominant fuel used to produce New England’s electricity. The natural gas tariff would be used to arrange long-term supply contracts that could be used to finance a pipeline expansion. This past winter electricity prices jumped 55 percent across New England due primarily to shortages of natural gas.
Clarke said the New England governors met a couple of weeks ago in Washington and are planning to huddle again in July in Canada with provincial premiers. He said he hopes to have a clean power contract and a transmission line in place by the end of the year.
Article originally appears in CommonWealth