New England power generators oppose Mass. proposed clean energy mandates

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2014

Legislation intended to quickly add muscle into Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas emissions reduction program is drawing fire from both power producers and clean energy advocates because it would lock the state into long-term hydropower contracts with Canadian utilities and hinder the state’s homegrown clean energy sector.
Massachusetts’ H. 3968, co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mark Cusack and Sen. Barry Finegold, would require that by the end of 2014 all of the commonwealth’s electricity distributors solicit proposals for an estimated 2,400 megawatts of new generation from clean energy resources, including hydropower, solar and wind.The new generation would be in addition to the state’s existing renewable energy mandates, which among other things require the construction of 2,000 MW of new wind power and 1,600 MW of solar power by 2020. Massachusetts currently has 463 MW of solar capacity, nearly half of which came online in 2013, and 103 MW of wind power capacity.But critics of the legislation, which was the subject of a joint House-Senate hearing yesterday, say its requirement that power distributors enter 20- or 25-year purchase agreements for significant quantities of new hydropower from utilities in Canada places the state’s electricity consumers at risk of rising power prices.

Critics also contend that the Canadian hydropower, which is expected to cost Massachusetts utilities between $50 and $60 per megawatt-hour, will also make it harder for solar and wind power firms to compete for the same power purchase contracts.

The New England Power Generators Association, which represents companies responsible for 80 percent of the region’s generation capacity, called the legislation “ill-conceived” and expressed “grave concerns with the impacts this proposal would have on electricity prices for consumers and a dramatic change to the competitive market structure.”

Canadian hydropower ‘will not come cheap’

NEPGA yesterday released a report from former U.S. Energy Assistant Secretary for Policy Susan Tierney, now a principal in the Boston-based Analysis Group, that estimated that the full cost of importing Canadian hydropower into Massachusetts could exceed $1 billion annually, including an additional $1 billion in expected near-term transmission costs.

“When considered in total, the costs of the power and the transmission delivery will not come cheap for Massachusetts consumers,” Tierney wrote, adding that the bill’s provisions are “too much, too fast, too costly, and too risky, with far too many troubling implications for Massachusetts.”

“Indeed, there’s no reason to believe that power from provincially owned Canadian utilities will be ‘cheap,’ as assumed by various observers,” she wrote.

But supporters of the bill, including Gov. Deval Patrick (D), say a pending surge in Canadian hydropower will help Massachusetts achieve its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent over 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 percent by midcentury. Those targets were established under the commonwealth’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.

Patrick and his energy and environmental affairs secretary, Rick Sullivan, have actively courted Canadian energy companies to help the state meet grid-greening objectives. And Massachusetts last year joined four other New England states in a regional initiative to import significantly more hydropower into the region from neighboring Quebec and Canada’s Maritime Provinces.

Hydropower currently accounts for 13 to 14 percent of Massachusetts’ electricity mix, depending on the season. Yet under the legislation, new hydropower contracts could account for as much as one-third of Massachusetts’ total electricity use, or 18.9 million megawatt-hours annually.

Much of that projected new hydropower will travel along a new $1.4 billion transmission project called the Northern Pass Line that links utility Hydro-Quebec’s grid to much of New England via New Hampshire.

Can wind and solar compete?

Critics of the proposal say electricity imports of that scale run the risk of destabilizing Massachusetts’ electricity markets and, as Tierney wrote, “would send the signal to private investors that Massachusetts is willing to rush to enact and implement public policy that fundamentally changes the rules of the game in one short six-month period.”

The measures may also fail to meet the desired objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade.

A recent report from the Global Warming Solutions Project predicts that Massachusetts will fall 5 percent short of meeting its 2020 target, even when accounting for an expected 5.4 percent drop in emissions solely tied to the import of Canadian hydropower.

Among the monitoring group’s recommendations to close the 5 percent gap are to “encourage appropriately sited, cost-effective transmission lines to bring additional renewable power into Massachusetts” and to “add renewable thermal energy to the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard.”

Finegold, the bill’s Senate co-sponsor and vice chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, has indicated that the bill could be tweaked to address concerns raised by critics.

For example, according to The Boston Globe, Finegold said he is aware of concerns that such a heavy reliance on hydropower could make it more difficult for developers of other forms of generation, such as wind and solar power, to compete in the state’s energy marketplace.

“We still want to grow our own renewable in the state,” Finegold told the newspaper.