New England's Power Shortage Gets Worse

New England's Power Shortage Gets Worse

There they go again. New England authorities are passively accepting the closing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Reactor, one of the region’s four remaining reactors, which Entergy announced it will shutter up by 2019. The loss is 685 megawatts or 5 percent of New England’s electricity.

Once again a reactor has been deemed too expensive to operate because nuclear gets absolutely no credit for delivering clean, emissions-free energy. As it happens, Pilgrim was delivering 84 percent of the clean energy in the state of Massachusetts. The closing leaves only the Seabrook reactor in New Hampshire and Connecticut’s two Millstone reactors, which deliver 47 percent of the Nutmeg state’s energy.

Entergy said it is closing the reactor because it is losing money competing against cheap natural gas. This seems counterintuitive since nuclear generally runs of very low fuel costs and because New Englanders now pay the highest electrical prices in the country, according to the Energy Information Administration. But the real problem is the raft of safety improvements that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has imposed on reactors since Fukushima. Entergy reportedly spent $1 billion in recent years on upgrades and is still facing more charges. So it decided to call it quits.

In an era when people think of almost nothing except how to control carbon emissions, it seems positively lunatic to be closing down emissions-free reactors and replacing them with natural gas. But President Obama’s Clean Power Plan practically invites it. Although states will get credit for building new nuclear plants – as if such a thing will ever happen – they get absolutely no credit for existing nuclear plants. Thus a state like Vermont, which had the lowest emissions rate in the country before closing Vermont Yankee, must now contemplate covering the Green Mountains with windmills and solar collectors in order to conform with the directives of the Obama program.

But such plans are going to meet with their own environmental resistance and so the course of least resistance seems to be to build more natural gas plants and import hydroelectricity from Canada. In this, New England will be following in the footsteps of California, which has established itself as a “leader” in clean energy. In fact, the Golden State 60 percent of its homegrown electricity from natural gas - highest rate in the nation – and imports almost half its power from hydroelectricity in Washington State and coal and nuclear energy in Arizona and Nevada. The windmills and solar plants in the desert are basically just window dressing.

The problem in New England is that even importing enough natural gas to run those plants and building power lines for the hydroelectricity are matters of controversy. Here’s a list of the proposed projects and the likelihood that they’re going to be built:

Access Northeast. A $3 billion gas pipeline that would bring 1 billion cubic feet of gas a day from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania. Spectra Energy of Houston in the developer. Last month the Department of Public Utilities of Massachusetts ruled that utilities could pass the costs of the pipeline through to their customers, which is sure to send electric rates through the roof.

Algonquin Incremental Market and Atlantic Bridge. These are two more gas pipelines designed to bring Pennsylvania gas into New England along existing pipeline corridors. The Algonquin is already under construction but the Atlantic is still being considered by regulators. This gas would not be reserved for utilities but will be available to homeowners, who are also overly dependent on natural gas for heating.

Northeast Energy Direct. This proposed Kinder Morgan project would bring 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas from Pennsylvania to a Dracut, a small Massachusetts town on the New Hampshire border. The project has generated fierce opposition in the western part of the state.

New England Clean Power Link. This is proposed 154-mile electrical cable running beneath Lake Champlain. It would bring Canadian hydro to New England. The project cleared a significant barrier in June when the Conservation Law Foundation agreed not to block the project in exchange for $284 million to clean up the lake and promote renewable energy.

Northern Pass. This is a project that would bring more Canadian hydro down an eastern corridor passing through New Hampshire. It has already stimulated fierce opposition from environmental groups, who have bought up property in its pathway to try to block the transmission wires. Eversource Energy, the developer, has agreed to bury some of the cable but opponents are still not satisfied.

Northeast Energy Link. This is a power line that would supposedly bring 1,000 megawatts of wind and hydro from Maine to eastern Massachusetts. It is awaiting legislative approval.

Vermont and Maine Green Lines. Two projects designed to carry more Canadian hydro to northern New England. Each would carry 1000 to 2000 megawatts. Permitting has not yet begun.

Maine Power Express. This project would bring wind, solar and hydroelectricity from Maine to Boston Harbor. It has not yet completed environmental reviews.* All these “renewable” projects involve energy generated in northern Maine or Canada. Chances are only a few will ever see completion. But if they do they will only prove that “clean energy” is something generated far from home and only begrudgingly transmitted to the point of consumption.

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