New Study: Energy Market Changes Undermine Economic Case for Northern Pass

Jun 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo credit: flickr/brianjmatis

This week, the New England Power Generators Association (the trade group for most of the region’s power plant companies, also known as NEPGA) released a new study analyzing the potential effect of the Northern Pass project on New England’s energy market – the first independent study addressing this issue. More than two years after the deeply flawed energy study that Northern Pass’s developer commissioned and has cited unrelentingly since, NEPGA’s study is an important, credible contribution to the public discussion surrounding the Northern Pass project.

The new study’s conclusion: the supposed energy benefits of the project – that it will lower the region’s energy costs and diversify the region’s power supply – won’t materialize. The study also shows that the economic merits of the current proposal are much weaker today than they were when the proposal was formulated two years ago, due to reductions in the cost of natural gas.

You can read NEPGA’s press release about the study (PDF) here and the full study (PDF) here. You’ll find press coverage of the study in the Union Leader here, in the Concord Monitor here, on WMUR-TV here, and on New Hampshire Public Radio here.

A few key takeaways:

  • The study’s finding that natural gas prices have declined is not news to Hydro-Québec or to Northern Pass’s developer, which is trumpeting new domestic natural gas supplies as a “game-changer.” What this means, in practical terms, is that the project will not put much downward pressure on the already-low regional market price of power. That’s a problem for Northern Pass: reducing regional energy costs is at the heart of the Northern Pass sales pitch. (As we’ve pointed out before, this “benefit” in fact perversely would put upward pressure on – rather than lower – the rates that most New Hampshire consumers pay.)
  • With the economics of the project so tenuous, there is a clear risk that the proponents will seek to qualify Northern Pass power for the benefits afforded to new renewable energy sources under state clean energy laws, a legal change that would unfairly undermine the market for renewable energy development in New England. (The risk that hydropower imports will need subsidies to cover new transmission costs has also recently been cited by critics of the Champlain Hudson Power Express project in New York.) If it’s true, as proponents insist, that Northern Pass doesn’t need subsidies, New England should accept nothing less than a binding legal commitment from Hydro-Québec and Northern Pass’s developer not to seek or accept them.
  • NEPGA’s study suggests that Northern Pass would shift Québec hydropower exports from New York and Ontario to New England. This effect may completely offset the supposed carbon emissions reductions from Northern Pass (which are inherently dubious for other reasons) because it is extremely likely that New York or Ontario would ramp up natural gas power plants to make up any deficit. In this regard, the study shows yet again that a rigorous big-picture regional analysis – of the kind that could be provided in the comprehensive regional assessment of our energy needs and the role, if any, for more Canadian imports that CLF and others have sought and Northern Pass’s developer has opposed – is essential to making a well-informed decision on a proposal like Northern Pass.
  • The developer’s hair-trigger response – to question the credibility of the sponsors of the study and not the study’s actual findings, a classic Bulverism – speaks volumes. At every turn, the developer has refused to acknowledge or address the problems with its current proposal, even in the face of unequivocal facts that debunk the supposed benefits. Sadly, we can expect the potential rollout of the “new route” for a piece of the project later this summer to follow a similar script.

Above all, NEPGA’s new study underscores that that no one should rely on the stale, incomplete, and misleading information that Northern Pass’s developer is using to sell the project to the public and to government agencies. We need a much deeper, clear-eyed understanding of what Northern Pass would mean for the region’s energy consumers, New Hampshire communities, and the environment on both sides of the border.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (http://www.clf.org/northern-pass), and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

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