PORTSMOUTH HERALD: New England leaders take on impending electric crisis
As originally appearing in The Portsmouth Herald

By Deborah McDermott
July 01, 2014 2:00 AM

MANCHESTER — The New England states are united in proposing that a tariff be imposed on electricity rates throughout the region to fund more natural gas pipelines and increased transmission infrastructure — to reverse electricity costs that are among the highest in the nation.

The proposal is a necessary step because the region has limited gas pipeline capacity despite a demand that has grown from 6 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2013, energy experts said Monday at a forum sponsored by the New England Council at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester.

At the same time, there was an increase in the retiring of coal-fired, oil and even nuclear power plants, which have acted as a more reasonably priced backup during cold New England days when natural gas supplies have been curtailed.

And many of these reasonably priced alternatives emit greenhouse gases and therefore come at an environmental cost, experts said, as New England states seek to reduce carbon emissions.

The end result is a “precarious” situation that has in the last four winters placed New England “on the brink of reliability,” said Gordon van Welie, president and chief executive officer of ISO New England, which oversees the operation of New England’s bulk electric power system.

For instance, this past winter, electricity prices soared as gas pipelines were operating at capacity but demand was much higher. Van Welie said the wholesale energy market in New England for the months of December 2013 and January and February 2014 was about $5 billion — the same value of the entire 12 months of 2012.

It is a situation that energy experts for the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island called untenable — particularly economically.

“New England is losing out” on a natural gas “boom” that is going on elsewhere in the country, said Patrick Woodcock, director of the Maine Governor’s Energy Office.

“We’ve had companies looking at Maine, and when they sharpened their pencils and looked at the energy costs, they say, ‘No thank you. We’re going where there’s lower energy costs,'” he said.

The six New England states, at the direction of their governors, have formed the New England Committee on Electricity to come up with solutions. On June 20, the committee proposed that a tariff be imposed to add natural gas pipelines and transmission lines with the goal of increasing power reliability throughout the region.

While they stress this is a preliminary proposal and states are working on a solution, the energy panelists said something has to give in New England.

“We would prefer the magic market-based solution,” said Nicholas Ucci of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, “but that solution has not come forward.”

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