Three Ugly Numbers Behind the Governors’ Push for Canadian Hydropower

Christophe Courchesne

 

canadian-hydropower

As the New England Governors and the Eastern Canadian Premiers gather in Bretton Woods for their annual conference next week, it’s likely there will be much discussion of building new transmission lines to enable additional imports of Canadian hydropower into New England. Indeed, financing such transmission lines is the centerpiece of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s pending energy bill and the supposedly “clean” half of the New England Governors’ massive gas pipeline and hydropower plan.

Earlier this year, after the Governors’ energy plan emerged, I broke down three big questions about increasing hydropower imports through new transmission projects: namely, cost, environmental impact, and reliability. We’re not alone in asking these questions. Just yesterday, the Boston Business Journal’s managing editor argued that the region deserves a fuller, better accounting of the total costs of the Governors’ initiative to customers.

As we outlined in our preliminary briefing on the documents obtained from the states on the origins of the Governors’ plan, it appears that the economic and environmental analysis commissioned by the Governors is flawed and incomplete. In the search for hard data points, we offer three of our own.

$800 million
per year 
above current market prices

That’s the cost, according to CLF’s analysis of Hydro-Québec and Northeast Utilities regulatory filings, to generate the power from Hydro-Québec’s new hydropower facilities on the Romaine River (now under construction) and deliver it to the New England electric market through a transmission project like Northeast Utilities’ proposed Northern Pass project in New Hampshire. On a per kilowatt-hour basis, we estimate the cost at 15.2 cents, which is more than three times the cost of energy efficiency and nearly twice that of recent land-based wind power contracts. You can access the full fact sheet with all assumptions and references here or by clicking on the image above. It appears that New England States Committee on Electricity’s (NESCOE) economic analysis, on which the Governors’ plan rests, inexplicably assumed that the cost would be four times less than the public Romaine/Northern Pass figures used in CLF’s analysis.

70%
the carbon pollution of natural gas power over the next decade

That’s the greenhouse gas emissions that can be expected, according to Hydro-Quebec’s own scientific research, during the first ten years following the construction of a new large-scale hydropower facility, such as the Romaine projects discussed above. This research, which CLF has extensively discussed in past posts, utterly debunks the false assumption, contained in all of the studies of hydropower imports on which the Governors’ plan, Massachusetts’s climate plan, and Northern Pass marketing rely, that imported hydropower has no emissions. If new imports are to come from new dams in Canada and will principally displace natural gas power, the promised emissions reductions through the end of the next decade are overstated by more than threefold.

canadian-hydropower

24
times Hydro-Québec chose to curtail exports 
in one cold month of winter 2014

That’s at least how many times, during cold weather in January 2014, Hydro-Quebec chose to limit its power exports to New England over existing transmission lines, according to an internal NESCOE document that CLF made available in the archive released to the public last month. In other words, at the times of greatest electric system stress and despite very high wholesale market prices, Hydro-Québec chose not to send power to New England, presumably to meet its own domestic needs. This number casts considerable doubt on the reliability benefits of building more transmission lines, which could go unused or underutilized during the cold weather periods when, the Governors say, we need more power to ensure reliability.

canadian-hydropower

These numbers are illustrations of why CLF is pushing so hard, in appeals filed this week, to get documents from NESCOE and the states. It is time for robust public debate and transparent scrutiny of all the data and assumptions leading state officials and grid operator ISO-NE to call for a multi-billion dollar tax on electric customers to finance new gas pipeline and hydropower transmission lines. If they have badly miscalculated, as these ugly numbers suggest, the plan can be shelved in favor of more cost-effective, market-oriented, and environmentally sound energy solutions that the Governors are now ignoring.

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4 Responses to “Three Ugly Numbers Behind the Governors’ Push for Canadian Hydropower”

  1. Liz Philbrick

    Just say NO to Northern Pass. NH gets NOTHING out of it but a ruined landscape, less tourism, and a huge eyesore.
    They want to cross NH with a huge scar from one border to the other~NO WAY I say~~!!! Stop the Northern Pass~

  2. Rich Cowan

    I would like to see CLF do an economic analysis of the other routes for Canadian hydropower other than Northern Pass. Isn’t it possible for the US to purchase more power that would flow along existing transmission lines that run from Nova Scotia to Boston?

    I heard a commentator say that Northern pass would draw power from flooding an area the size of Denmark. My understanding is that the Labrador dams under construction would flood areas on the scale of Quabbin reservoir which is more reasonable and less than 1% of the size of Denmark. Besides the obvious need to reduce fossil fuel and reduce global warming, a reservoir of water filled up through the fall could meet peak demand in the Northeast in the dead of winter when we cannot obtain much power from solar energy.

    It seems to me that the major objections to Northern Pass — that it would go through an area depending on a tourism economy, and that it is tied to the obscenely large hydro quebec project — would be addressed by the eastern option.

    Questions about “crowding out” renewables could be met by attaching conditions to any purchase of Canadian hydropower, so that the contracts would limit the size of the purchases and require the vast majority of the power to be purchased during the hours of the day and times of the year when solar panels are not operating close to full strength. (Also, this project would deliver power in January when small hydro does not operate in most of New England due to frozen streams.)

    Thus it would be great to see a CLF analysis of this option.

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