LPS’s position on imported Canadian hydropower

The New England grid has a nameplate capacity of about 31 gigawatts (GW). That's 31,000 megawatts. About 15% of this is from facilities slated to go offline by the end of next year. There is a mad dash to replace this missing capacity. It is a big deal because northeasterners already pay the highest power costs in the continental US. If supply falters, prices will increase.

One widely touted proposal, advocated by many state governments in the Northeast, is to pump in electricity generated by Canadian hydropower projects.

LPS cannot support this initiative. The impact on consumption habits and the environment, not to mention eye-wateringly high transmission costs and the export of jobs, is unfavorable to say the least.

Currently in review or under construction are five large-scale transmission proposals that could pump thousands of megawatts into the Northeast and ease prices as supply increases:

  • the $1.4B Northern Pass proposal to carry 1.2GW of electricity via mostly overhead lines across 187 miles of NH

  • the $1.2B New England Clean Power Link to run 1GW of juice under Lake Champlain and across VT

  • the 1GW Champlain Hudson Power Express, a $2B proposal that would run 330 miles mostly under Lake Champlain, down the Hudson River and into NYC

  • the Maine Green Line, a $1B+, 300-mile cable underground and under the ocean to the Boston area

  • the Northeast Energy Link, a 230-mile underground run from Orrington ME to Tewksbury MA, at an estimated cost of more than $2B

A billion here, and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. Even disregarding the eye-watering initial capital cost, we contend that with abundant locally available power, this is tantamount to insanity. In addition to transmission lines' severe environmental consequences, it would stymie efforts to trim consumption and develop renewable energy sources closer to home.

Our view is that there is indeed a role for Canadian hydropower in the New England power grid. It’s an ideal way to stabilize supply and essentially have a credit line to tap into when we need it. But that’s about it. Spending billions on environmentally disastrous transmission assets strikes us as a fool's errand, when that same capital could be used to create jobs locally.

So many factors go into a consumer’s bill – including supply, demand, usage and the prices of other fuels at any moment in time – that it’s hard to pinpoint the effect that more Canadian hydroelectricity will have on an individual. Even so, we contend it is madness to import baseload power. Sure, it is not as risky as Germany’s running natural gas pipelines across the Ukraine. Canada is obviously a stable, staunch ally, but still.

While creating hundreds of miles of easements across upper New England would be a field day for eminent domain lawyers, there will be irreparable damage to, e.g., New Hampshire’s scenic beauty, the environment and property values along the route. One could of course bury the lines but that is about three times as costly, is much more expensive to maintain, and is highly intrusive in terms of installation. Since the whole point of the exercise is to develop cheap electricity, having these costs passed through to ratepayers is, we suggest, one step forward and one step back. We also worry that a vast supply of power from Canada will lull states into a false sense of security and that they’ll let efficiency efforts lapse or shirk requirements to find more renewable sources closer to home.

All in, we suggest that imported power – green as it may be – never be allowed to count toward utilities’ renewable portfolio standards (RPS). The RPS is currently set at 15 percent here in MA, and we suggest that the definition be clarified to encompass only US-sourced power.

The more progress we can make on energy efficiency – and not just lease another country’s efficiency -- the less consumers will pay in the long run, period.

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