Risky Business: Leaking Natural Gas Infrastructure and How to Fix It

Nov 28, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On the day after Thanksgiving, an explosion shook the City of Springfield. A natural gas pipeline leak led to the explosion that injured eighteen people and brought down two buildings.  The details behind the cause of this explosion are still being pieced together, but  once again, public confidence has been shaken in the pipeline system that is supposed to transport natural gas safely and reliably to homes, businesses and institutions in communities throughout the nation. Today, CLF is releasing a report on the importance of addressing problems with our aging, leaky natural gas  infrastructure. (You can download a free copy of that report here, and find the press release here.)

In Massachusetts, local distribution companies operate almost 21,000 miles of pipeline—that’s almost enough pipe to encircle the earth. But people seldom give much thought to those pipes that are running beneath their homes, beneath their businesses and beneath their feet.

That has been changing since the explosions that rocked San Bruno, California in 2010 and Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Shortly afterwards, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation issued a national “Call to Action” to address pipeline safety, but there are still many hurdles to be overcome. One of the toughest obstacles to tackle is the replacement of aging, leak-prone pipelines and the swift repair of leaks on the system. Public safety is the primary driver behind the repair and replacement of aging pipes, but it is also important to recognize the added benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving a valuable resource, and reducing ratepayer costs.

The need for action is particularly acute in Massachusetts where over one-third of the system is considered “leak-prone”—made up of cast iron or unprotected steel pipe. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, 50% of the cast iron left on the United States distribution system is centered in only four states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Though Massachusetts regulators have been working to find solutions to this problem, there is more to be done.

This infographic underscores the need for additional work in Massachusetts. So significant are the leaks that the gains from efficiency programs put in place by Massachusetts regulators have been overwhelmed by the amount of gas lost through leaky pipes. The costs of those leaks are being borne not by the utilities, or by the regulators, but by consumers. Utilities pass the cost of lost gas onto ratepayers to the tune of $38.8 million a year.

“Fugitive emissions from aging gas pipelines across Massachusetts are polluting our environment – releasing more greenhouse gases than we are saving through all of our energy efficiency efforts,” said D. Michael Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America. “This is problematic for the environment and the economy, but fixing this problem provides an important opportunity. Putting people to work fixing leak-prone pipelines will save Massachusetts ratepayers money by simultaneously modernizing our pipe infrastructure, improving efficiency and helping to protect the environment.”

Fortunately, there are some clear policy options that could be implemented relatively quickly to prevent this valuable resource from endangering the public and vanishing into thin air.  ”The good news is that not only would these policies increase public safety and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they also provide an opportunity to create good, local jobs,” according to Cindy Luppi, New England Director of Clean Water Action.  As she points out, “local neighborhoods, as well as first responders, will bear the brunt of impacts if this aging system experiences an explosion.   We hope all public officials will embrace real solutions that value health and safety, ratepayer equity and climate leadership.”

As outlined in our report, Into Thin Air, CLF is advocating for five specific policies to accelerate the replacement of aging pipe and ensure that existing pipeline is properly examined and repaired:

1)    Establishing Leak Classification and Repair Timelines that provide a uniform system for classifying leaks according to level of hazard and require repair within a specified time;

2)    Limiting or Ending Cost Recovery for Lost and Unaccounted for Gas so that companies have an incentive to identify the causes of lost gas and prevent them;

3)    Expanding existing replacement programs and adding performance benchmarks;

4)    Changing Service Quality Standards to include requirements for reducing leaks on the system;

5)    Enhancing monitoring and reporting requirements to give the public and regulators more information.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working with our allies at Clean Water Action and the BlueGreen Alliance to raise public awareness about the need to tackle this issue. We’ll also work with communities to make sure they know how to identify and report gas leaks and talk with them about the benefits of policies that make for a safer, cleaner natural gas system. If you’re interested in joining us, please contact me at scleveland@clf.org.

Doing The Math, Boston style

Nov 16, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The unique combination of lecture, rally, music show and secular revival known as the 350.org Do The Math tour came to Boston last night. As has been documented in coverage of earlier stops in the tour this is a very special event that brings together vibrant music, powerful information and an energizing call to action.

CLF proudly played a role in helping this worthy effort gain access to the historic Orpheum Theater in downtown Boston and raising awareness about the event — the seventh straight sold out show in the tour.

CLF President John Kassel took the stage after a very energizing and customized video from 350 Massachusetts energized the crowd with a rap song that somehow pulled together Rex Tillerson, Barack Obama and the fact that the oil companies have “five times as much in the ground as it is safe to burn” – literally putting Bill McKibben’s powerful words to music.

John fired up the crowd with a call for greater funding for public transit (which met with a roar of approval from a crowd who had largely gotten there on the train), finishing the job of ending coal fired power plants in New England that CLF and allies has well underway and a massive push for new renewable energy projects including getting the Cape Wind project over the finish line. John ended by invoking the powerful history of Boston and the possibility that once again, right here and right now we could be again launching a revolution from this city.

For those who were there last night, and didn’t catch up with any of our clipboard toting staff in the lobby, you can join CLF today by clicking here.

John linked together the core message of Do The Math – that our adversary is the fossil fuel industry who have a business model that is incompatible with the survival of humanity – with the specific story told by the Cape Wind Now! campaign that CLF leads – that leaders of that same fossil fuel industry like Bill Koch are doing all they can to stop the flagship Cape Wind clean energy project.

There were many powerful voices on the stage ranging from students to musicians (most notably the Charles Neville Trio, led by one of the legendary Neville Brothers, the first family of New Orleans) to powerful testimony from the great Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein about her recent visit to the storm ravaged neighborhoods of New York. But the undisputed star of the show was Bill McKibben who told the story of how as a 27 year old writer he had published the End of Nature, twenty-five years ago, innocently believing that he could sway decision makers and change the world simply by writing a book and how he had come to appreciate the need for deep and broad action and activism and mobilization across all sectors of society to push back against the interests of the fossil fuel companies who literally have invested in a course of action that will end life as we know it on this planet.

It was an evening of both hope and heavy messages.  An evening filled with information and observations that could bring you to the brink of despair or to the uplifting realization that you have the opportunity to help millions of people across the world, both present and future, by fighting to head off climate catastrophe.  It is the definition of daunting to realize that you are being asked to help accomplish something very important, but difficult, but the message from the stage at Do The Math was that we all must hear and heed the call to action.

New Data: PSNH’s Coal-Fired Business Model in Free Fall

Nov 9, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It’s not news that New Hampshire’s ratepayers are paying too much money to support PSNH’s ancient, massively inefficient, and heavily polluting coal-fired power plants. CLF has repeatedly called out PSNH’s calamitous insistence on continuing to operate coal-fired units at Merrimack Station in Bow and Schiller Station in Portsmouth and the resulting exorbitant electric rates that PSNH customers pay.

It’s still possible to be shocked, however, by the magnitude of PSNH’s growing problems and the environmental and economic harm that PSNH’s collapse is causing in New Hampshire. And the situation is worsening: new data are confirming the futility and waste of operating coal plants, and New Hampshire ratepayers are, in what is now a full-scale stampede, abandoning PSNH to meet their electric needs with cleaner, cheaper energy from competitors.

Here is an update on PSNH’s so-called “death spiral”:

Unprecedented Idling of Power Plants

A power plant’s “capacity factor” is a ratio between the amount of electricity the plant actually produced over a given period and the amount that it would have produced had it been running at full capacity during that time. Because coal plants – like nuclear plants – take some time to ramp up and take offline, they are built to operate with a very high capacity factor, on a 24-7 basis. In 2007, PSNH operated Merrimack Station’s coal boilers at 91% capacity and Schiller Station’s coal boilers at 84%.

The new reality for PSNH: these numbers have fallen precipitously since then; over the first nine months of 2012, Merrimack’s coal units had a capacity factor of 31%, and Schiller’s coal units 9.7%.

* 2012 data through September (source: EPA and ISO-NE data)

With dirty coal being trounced in the marketplace by cheaper power sources, especially natural gas, it is a disproportionately expensive undertaking to operate a coal unit – and a veritable folly at these levels of output.

Energy Service Rate Hike in 2013

The problem for PSNH’s customers is that even though the writing is on the wall for coal power plants around the country and here in New England, PSNH is still guaranteed a ratepayer-funded profit for owning Merrimack and Schiller, which is handed over to PSNH whether or not the plants produce power. Add it all together – PSNH’s operating costs for Merrimack, Schiller, and its other power plants, PSNH’s guaranteed profit, and the cost of the “replacement” power PSNH buys from the regional market to provide electricity to its customers while its plants sit idle – and PSNH customers are paying a huge and increasing premium over rates in the competitive market.

While there are many separate charges on an electricity bill, the “energy service” rate reflects the costs of generating the electricity. At the end of September, PSNH filed a projection (PDF) with the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission warning of a residential energy service rate increase to take effect on January 1, 2013. The utility requested a 26% increase in the amount customers pay for electricity supplied by PSNH, bringing the overall default energy service rate to 8.97 cents per kilowatt hour. PSNH has also separately requested a permanent rate increase to recover the costs of the $422 million mercury scrubber that, if passed, would bring the default energy service rate to 9.27 cents per kilowatt hour.

By contrast, just over the border in Massachusetts, PSNH affiliate NStar’s residential customers will be paying a mere 6.69 cents per kilowatt hour for power that NStar almost wholly buys from the regional market. NStar’s rates are, like virtually all New England utilities other than PSNH, reflective of the historically low electricity prices available in that market, which have steadily fallen since 2008.

What this means is that, come January, the average PSNH-served New Hampshire home will be subsidizing PSNH and its power plants to the tune of $169 per year, or more than $190 per year with the addition of the extra charge for the scrubber.

Residential and Small Business Customers Increasingly Abandoning PSNH

As CLF documented recently, PSNH’s increasing rates represent an enormous market opportunity for competitive energy suppliers in New Hampshire.

They are seizing it. September 2012 data show 17,507 residential PSNH customers (about 5%) purchasing power from non-PSNH suppliers, an increase of more than 6,000 customers over the month before and a whopping 16,000 more than September of 2011. The number of small businesses fleeing PSNH’s electricity supply has grown at a steady rate: 14,617 purchased power from non-PSNH suppliers in September 2012, compared to 9,351 in September 2011.

(source: PSNH filings with N.H. Public Utilities Commmission)

Meanwhile, the most recent data show that there are now virtually no large or medium-sized businesses that buy power from PSNH.

While retail choice in suppliers for New Hampshire’s residential and small business customers was slow in coming, the available options have expanded considerably in the past year. Resident Power, Electricity NH, and Glacial Energy all quote lower rates than PSNH, and they are increasingly offering additional choices of electricity supply from coal-free, renewable, and sustainable sources at fixed rates lower than PSNH. We can expect an even faster exodus to these suppliers and new ones like them after PSNH’s rate increase in January.

Despite the rapidly increasing number of customers choosing alternative electricity suppliers, the vast majority of New Hampshire’s residential customers still purchase their electricity from PSNH. Many customers are unable or too busy to research comparative rates and make the change. And energy supply choice alone will neither affect the astounding subsidies that PSNH is getting to prop up its failing business nor force PSNH to make the economically rational decision to retire its dirty, outdated coal plants.

We need to correct this massive public policy failure and bring to an end the severe economic, environmental, and public health damage that PSNH’s ancient coal plants are causing in the Granite State. There is now reason to believe that we are turning a corner. Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s new governor-elect, has been outspoken about the importance of reducing pollution from electricity generation, especially from PSNH’s coal fleet. CLF is ready to work with the new administration and Legislature to develop a comprehensive climate and energy plan that transitions the state out of the grip of PSNH’s coal-fired business model and moves New Hampshire toward a cleaner and affordable energy future.

Fellowship Attorney Caitlin Peale co-authored this post.

Everything You Know Is Wrong: Growing the Economy Without Growing Electricity (and Energy) Demand

Oct 1, 2012 by  | Bio |  7 Comment »

Back in the 1970′s the satirical and surreal Firesign Theater proclaimed that “Everything You Know is Wrong.” At the intersection of energy and economics, that absurdist assertion is a increasingly obvious reality that advocates, policy makers and industry must embrace.

Throughout history, there are moments when prior assumptions and core beliefs have simply stopped being accurate. Great examples include people discovering that the Earth is round, microscopic organisms cause disease, and that various substances (tobacco, asbestos, particles produced by diesel engines) are harmful. To paraphrase what John Maynard Keynes may or may not have said, when confronted with changed facts the intelligent person changes their perspective, assumptions and opinions accordingly.

In the wonky, but critically important, world of energy systems no assumption has been more ingrained than this: “over the long term, energy demand grows over time — and that the only time it stays steady or declines is when the economy is in crisis and not growing.” But this “truth” that “everyone knows” is increasingly obviously wrong: we can grow while using less. Indeed, sometimes we can do better and grow because we’re using less energy.

The good folks at the Andersen window factory in Minnesota agree with this realization that the old conventional wisdom is wrong: a recent newspaper column documenting the experience of Andersen Windows described how even though “Andersen is making and selling more of its products . . . it’s using less energy. They’ve done it by changing light bulbs, upgrading equipment, and educating employees about energy conservation.”

Here in New England we have a strong record of planning and implementing energy efficiency and it is paying off in the same way. That is the clear assessment of the sharp-penciled engineers at ISO New England (the folks who operate and plan our regional electricity system), as presented in the graph below from the final report of a working group that CLF participated in. It may seem like heiroglyphs, but let me explain.

In the graph below, ISO-NE (as it is know) presents three energy futures: the blue line is the traditional forecast of expected growth in energy demand tracking expected economic expansion, the “load growth” that traditional models expect when the economic grows. This is then adjusted in the red line to reflect energy efficiency and other demand resources that have been recognized (and purchased) in the regional  electricity markets, reflecting the past wise decision to allow such resources to participate in those markets. Finally, the forecast is then further adjusted in the black line to reflect the plans and programs for efficiency and alternative energy being undertaken by the New England states.

Credit: ISO-NE

What you see in the flat, black line is economic growth without growing energy demand. You see the kind of growth being undertaken at Andersen scaled to an entire region.

In a quiet way this is a revolution — a clear recognition that new wind turbines, solar panels, or gas fired power plants will replace existing old and dirty oil and coal fired power plants as they retire, not to meet rising demand.  This is a stunning reality and success: the increasingly successful efforts to foster efficiency have ended the upward march of energy demand, allowing our economy to grow without increasing electricity demand.

Let us now hope that, as the facts change, people and organizations change their beliefs, perspectives and plans accordingly.  Building and buying energy infrastructure must continue – but it can no longer assume rising demand. Our investments must be smart, targeted and build towards a cleaner, and thriving, future where we have squarely and honestly addressed our climate crisis and the challenges of economic growth. Getting this right is one of the most positive aspects of what Bill McKibben has described as the “terrifying new math” that global warming mandates – this is a real life example of where we are headed in the right direction, cutting the link between increased prosperity and increased energy use and emissions.

Smooth Sailing with Clean Diesel

Sep 19, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In 2011, CLF Ventures, the strategy-consulting arm of CLF, received a grant from the EPA to help two New England fishing/whale watching vessels replace the aging, inefficient engines on their vessels with cleaner-burning, more efficient four-stroke diesel engines. In this video, Captain Brad Cook of the Atlantic Queen II and Captain Chris Charos of Captain’s Fishing Parties reveal how the EPA grant and CLF Ventures enabled them to update their vessels’ technology, reducing emissions and substantially cutting their fuel use:

The EPA’s National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance program is designed to reduce air pollution and exposure to diesel fumes by covering up to 75% of the cost of an engine upgrade or repower. Replacing an outdated engine with the clean-burning technology used by Captain Brad and Captain Chris reduces asthma-causing particulate matter emissions by 63 percent and smog-producing nitrogen oxide emissions by 40 percent.

The program also cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions by improving efficiency and reducing fuel use by up to 14 percent. Fuel use is a serious concern for the fishing industry. A 2005 report published in AMBIO revealed that in 2000, the industry consumed about 13 million gallons of fuel, or 1.2 percent of global consumption. If the fishing industry were a country, it would be the world’s 18th-largest consumer of oil—on par with the Netherlands. Fishing is also one of the only industry sectors to consistently become less fuel-efficient in recent years. With declining stocks sending fishermen farther from shore, this problem will only become more severe without significant investments and improvements in technology. Programs like EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Program play an important role in greening the fishing fleet and helping to make fishing more sustainable.

The program isn’t just good for the environment; it’s also good for fishermen. A more efficient engine can save a fisherman 9,500 gallons of fuel per year, cutting fuel costs and increasing profit margins. Crew aboard these vessels reduce their exposure to harmful diesel fumes, which were recently classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization and placed in the same category as deadly toxins like asbestos and arsenic.  Consumers asking for sustainable options will appreciate the reductions in emissions and fuel use, too, and recreational fishermen and whale watchers aboard vessels with new engines can enjoy a quieter, cleaner ride.

Still, new engines can only go so far in cleaning up the fishing fleet. The industry is built on technology that made sense decades ago, when fuel was cheap, fish were more plentiful close to shore, and consumers weren’t demanding sustainable seafood choices. Down the line, greening the fleet will mean rebuilding it from the water up and introducing lighter, safer vessels that inherently use less fuel.

PSNH Ratepayers Get Cleaner, Cheaper Power Choices

Aug 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  4 Comment »

If you have a greener, cheaper choice, make it! (photo credit: ilovebutter/flickr)

Most customers of Public Service Company of New Hampshire get one of the worst electricity deals in New England. Their ratepayer dollars subsidize the operation of PSNH’s outdated, inefficient coal-fired power plants; they live with the public health impacts of air pollution from PSNH plants; they have seen (and will see) their rates rise thanks to PSNH’s abysmal planning; and they won’t see much if any benefit from the billion-dollar transmission project – Northern Pass - that PSNH is spending so much time promoting. Meanwhile, electricity for other New Englanders is getting cleaner and cheaper.

The good news for PSNH customers: they now have choices.

One of the more promising reforms associated with the restructuring of the region’s electric market in the late 1990s – “retail choice” – has been painfully slow to materialize for New Hampshire residents and small businesses. Most have been stuck with PSNH’s default energy service. (With their superior purchasing power, NH’s big businesses have been able to escape PSNH’s above-market rates for some time – either by buying power from the wholesale market themselves or through power buying groups organized by the likes of the Business and Industry Association.)

In the last few months, several companies - including Resident Power and Electricity NH - have started offering electric service to New Hampshire residents, and more companies are planning to do the same. Just last week, the Portsmouth Herald reported that USource (an affiliate of New Hampshire utility Unitil) is now working with chambers of commerce around the state to serve groups of small businesses. (UPDATE (8/14): Per today’s Union Leader, add Glacial Energy to the list.)

These companies’ rates beat PSNH’s energy service rate, and the savings are likely to increase as PSNH’s rate rises. And because these non-PSNH suppliers buy from cleaner, cheaper power sources, customers who switch do not pay to support PSNH’s dirty, uneconomic power plants. If you’re planning to switch, you should carefully read and understand the terms of your new contract. PSNH will continue to deliver your power and handle all billing.

It’s a win-win, a bit like finding that local, organic produce is priced less than conventionally-grown produce. (If you frequent one of New England’s many vibrant farmer’s markets or stop at a roadside stand this time of year, you often find yourself making exactly this discovery!)

But the competition is not good news for PSNH’s coal-fired business model  – or for the many customers who aren’t aware of their choices or are nervous about making the switch, whose rates will rise even faster as PSNH’s customer base shrinks. PSNH recently released its latest report on how many customers are making the switch – known as customer “migration” – and the numbers keep getting worse for PSNH. In June:

  • More than 86% of large commercial and industrial customers did not buy power from PSNH (accounting for 95% of the power delivered to such customers). Even though there was little room for them to grow, these numbers have climbed since last fall. 68% of medium-sized businesses also are choosing other suppliers.
  • With choices for New Hampshire residents and small businesses growing, PSNH’s numbers show that the percentage of residential customers who have left PSNH doubled (from a very small base) between April and June. This number is poised to increase dramatically. According to Electricity NH, which launched in June, it has already signed up 10,000 New Hampshire customers. We understand that Resident Power also is signing up customers at a fast clip.
  • Overall, 42% of power delivered to PSNH customers came from a supplier other than PSNH. This figure was 34% as of last July and has risen by almost a quarter in 12 months. Stated differently, since last July, PSNH has lost about 12% of its energy supply business.

These developments are only the latest signs that the writing is on the wall for PSNH’s coal-fired power plants and the disastrous public policy that keeps them in business. While CLF works to make sure New Hampshire policymakers get the message, PSNH ratepayers are getting the opportunity to send their own message to PSNH: no, thanks, we deserve better.

The Waste of Nuclear Power

Aug 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A recent decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) offers hope that the nuclear industry’s free ride is coming to an end. The problem of what to do with the ever-growing amount of nuclear waste that is stockpiled at nuclear sites around the country has been vexing industry and regulators for years. It is a shameful reminder of poor management. Our nuclear reactors continue to operate and generate more waste when we have no real solution for its long-term storage.

Absent a permanent answer, the waste sits where it ends up when it is no longer useful. In the case of Vermont, it sits on the banks of the Connecticut River or in a spent fuel pool of the same style and vintage as was used at the Fukushima reactor.

On August 7, the NRC decided no new or extended licenses will be finalized until the Commission completes the environmental review of waste issues that a Federal Appeals Court required in a June decision. Specifically the NRC decided it will:

(1) suspend final licensing decisions in reactor licensing cases, pending the completion of our action on the remanded Waste Confidence proceeding; (2) provide an opportunity for public comment on any generic determinations that we may make in either an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS); and (3) provide at least sixty days to seek consideration in individual licensing cases of any site-specific concerns relating to the remanded proceedings.  (pg.3)

This is a very significant decision. The Federal Court gave the Commission a strong rebuke when it rejected NRC and industry claims that keeping waste where it is indefinitely is safe based only on a limited analysis of keeping it there for twenty years.

The waste storage issue is huge. It is crazy to think we can continue to license and operate nuclear facilities when we acknowledge we don’t have a place to put the waste. This decision is a step in the right direction, as we now have some assurance the impacts will be evaluated and the public will be allowed to participate in that process.

It is unclear what effect this will have on existing licenses. The specific decision only addressed licenses that are pending, including renewals.  As for Vermont Yankee, it is likely that these decisions will affect the state-level Public Service Board review. Vermont regulators must determine if continued operation “promotes the general good of the state.” While issues of radiological health and safety can legally only be managed at the federal level, the indefinite storage of waste and the lack of solutions produce economic burdens that are important for state regulators to address. Vermont and other states cannot be stiffed into holding the bag and bearing the economic burdens of unsound nuclear waste management. this harms Vermont’s “general good.”

Additional information is available in this Vermont Digger article - Nuclear Regulatory Commission halts nuclear power licensing decisions

 

A View from Inside (and Outside) the Annual Meeting of the New England Governors

Aug 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last week I found myself on the beautiful shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington Vermont at the 36th Annual meeting of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

Normally, this meeting is a low key affair that doesn’t have a big impact on the place where it is being held. That was not the case this year. Protests outside the meeting drew attention to issues, like potential import of tar sands oil into New England, that were not on the formal meeting agenda.

An Op-Ed by CLF President John Kassel which ran in a number of regional newspapers before and after the meeting and can now be found on the CLF blog, as well as those protests and pointed inquiries by the press in the meeting forced drew focus towards important and contentious issues like tar sands oil imports and the Northern Pass project.

But the action inside the conference was real and important.  Some notable highlights:

  • The Governors adopted a plan for “regional procurement” of renewable energy that creates an important framework for getting much needed clean renewable energy to get built across New England
  • The Governors and Premiers came together to hail the progress that has been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our shared region since 2001 and to lay out a framework for further action
  • A plan was adopted for moving towards a cleaner transportation system that maintains and builds mobility while moving away from gasoline and other dirty fuels that produce a range of pollutants

The overall story here is of a cross-border region that is struggling to do the right thing for its economy and its environment.  The challenge we all face is ensuring that our states and provinces live up to the promises of their words, making the difficult transition away from dirty fossil fuels and providing leadership to both the United States and Canada to build a new clean energy economy.

Can New England and Canada Achieve ‘Frenergy’?

Aug 6, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Against a backdrop of protesters vehemently opposing bad proposals to bring energy from Canada into New England, governors from the six New England states this week demonstrated their commitment to a clean energy future for our region. They resolved to pool their buying power, regionally, for renewable energy. This will boost wind and solar energy, among other clean sources, at the best available price — a much-needed step on our path to affordable renewable energy and independence from dirty fossil fuels.

The resolution was announced at the 36th annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, held July 29th and 30th in Burlington, Vermont. The protesters outside the meeting had the attention of high-ranking officials from Canada, whose energy system has been linked with ours – in small ways so far – for decades.  That linkage could grow dramatically in the future, for mutual benefit.  Eastern Canada has the potential to serve markets all over New England with low-carbon, low-cost and clean electricity from renewable sources. And New England needs it, if we get it on the right terms.

The wrong terms are exemplified by the Trailbreaker proposal and the Northern Pass transmission project, the two Canadian energy proposals galvanizing protesters outside the meetings in Burlington. Trailbreaker would send slurry oil derived from tar sands in Western Canada to Portland, Maine by reversing the flow of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline that has cut across Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine since it was built over 50 years ago. Northern Pass would cut a route running the length of New Hampshire, including through the White Mountains, for a high-voltage DC transmission line to deliver Canadian hydropower to parts of New England. In both cases, the environmental burdens far outweigh any benefits for our region.

However, long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power – that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England’s own renewable energy resources, replace coal  and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and accurately account for their impacts – are what New England needs. The details will be complicated, but they can be worked out.

Conversations inside the meeting were tilting in the direction of such productive cross-border cooperation, and the announcement of a regional resolution to bring clean, affordable energy to New England may have provided some salve for the protesters. Still, we need to continue to be vigilant about Trailbreaker and Northern Pass and we will spend the effort to defeat them if we must. But any effort spent on these deeply-flawed proposals –whether advancing them or fighting them – is an unfortunate use of precious time for both countries, given the urgent call of climate change.

The sooner we get to the task of building our shared clean energy future the better, for New Englanders and our friends to the north.

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