At a recent energy forum hosted by The New England Council, Gordon van Welie, CEO of ISO New England — our region’s power grid operator — described New England’s electric reliability this coming winter as “precarious.” And, van Welie warned, with more power plants closing down and the strain on available natural gas supplies for heating and electric generation unrelenting, by 2019 keeping the lights on in extreme cold weather threatens to become “unsustainable.”
The situation is all the more challenging when you consider that our region has no native sources of gas, oil or coal, and little opportunity for adding large-scale local hydroelectric power. New England pays markedly more for energy relative to the rest of the country because we are “at the end of the pipeline” for energy supply. This affects the region’s economic competitiveness both for businesses choosing to locate or expand here and for their employees and the energy bills they pay. For many businesses, high energy costs are the number-one challenge to succeeding, growing and adding jobs in New England.
In the coming months and years, policymakers face challenging, interrelated and far-reaching decisions about how the region meets its future power needs and environmental policy mandates, from what energy sources, and at what cost for businesses and consumers across the region.
The New England Council recently published a report, “The New England Energy Landscape: History, Challenges, and Outlook,” that aims to offer an impartial, unbiased explanation of the fundamental issues facing policymakers in the New England energy debate. On questions about natural gas supplies, imported hydro, renewables, nuclear power and more, the council takes no sides. But three key points from the report we want to stress to policymakers:
All these energy decisions are tightly interrelated, far more so than many people may realize. Promoting more energy from one source for cost or for environmental reasons affects the economics and viability of every other kind of energy. That in turn will affect how we meet 2020 and 2050 emissions mandates — and at what cost.
• Given that our six states share a single power grid, policy goals in any one New England state will undoubtedly impact its neighbors. Massachusetts’ and Rhode Island’s desire for more wind energy may require new transmission lines in Vermont and Maine; Maine’s and New Hampshire’s desire for greater gas supplies may require expanded gas pipelines in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
• Rather than approaching questions about renewables, gas, nuclear, or imported hydro as one-off choices that end at state borders, we encourage our region’s leaders and energy stakeholders to take a more comprehensive, holistic approach to tackling our energy challenges.
The New England Council looks forward to continuing to be an advocate for reliable, affordable and environmentally sound energy for our region, and to serving as a leader, convener and supporter of regional discussions and negotiations — and national legislation and policies — that will bring about the best energy future possible for all New Englanders.
James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council, a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth.