inside sources print logo
Get up to date New Hampshire news in your inbox

Pipeline Policies, Green Politics Could Mean ‘Controlled Power Outages’ in New England

New England’s power grid won’t be able to sustain itself through a prolonged cold snap this winter, as fuel for generating electricity and heating homes becomes more expensive and more scarce, the grid’s operators warned Monday. The result could be “controlled power outages” leaving some Granite Staters in the cold and dark.

During a press briefing on the upcoming winter’s outlook, ISO New England president and CEO Gordon van Welie said when temperatures fall to the extreme, the region’s electric generation system relies on liquid natural gas (LNG) and fuel oil to power the grid. 

“In recent years, oil and LNG have filled the gaps when extended periods of very cold weather have constrained natural gas pipeline supplies,” van Welie said. “Higher prices globally for these fuels, as well as pandemic-related supply chain challenges, could limit their availability in New England if needed to produce electricity this winter. The region would be in a precarious position if an extended cold snap were to develop and these fuels were not available.”

So precarious, in fact, they could result in rolling blackouts.

One reason is the limited supply of natural gas via pipelines, which are the safest and most reliable way to move fuel. Policies in the blue states of New York and Massachusetts have all but blocked New England’s access to more of the abundant natural gas available from Pennsylvania, which produces more than a fifth of the nation’s supply.

Another issue is the global energy market, van Welie said, as Europe and Japan become more reliant on LNG. With prices for LNG in Asia and Europe nearly double what it is in New England, it makes sense that most LNG producers are shipping their supplies overseas.

“These limitations are in addition to typical logistical challenges, such as inclement weather, that can affect fuel deliveries into the region,” van Welie added. “A national shortage of truck drivers may also affect the speed at which some generators can replenish their fuel supplies, as the trucking system is shared by multiple industries, including commercial and residential heating and electric generation.”

Efforts to address this challenge by either building more power plants or natural gas pipelines have been blocked.

The net result is New Englanders pay some of the highest energy prices in the nation for power from a grid that’s under ever more stress. Five of the top 10 states for highest electricity rates in the continental U.S. are in New England. (Maine is number 11.)

Across the nation, home heating oil prices have risen from an average of $2.55/gal to $3.55/gal today. Propane prices have jumped from $1.88/gal to $2.71/gal in the past year.

New England is expected to see a mild winter during the 2021-22 season. However, according to van Welie, weather is uncertain and extreme cold snaps are not out of the question given climate change. And, he noted, the region came within days of running out of fuel in the winter of 2017-18, he said.

Peter Brandien, ISO New England’s vice president of system operations and market administration, said the COVID-19 pandemic is also playing a role. More people working from home means more power consumption, as more individuals turn a spare bedroom into an office rather than sharing a common space with many other people. And now more businesses have reopened and are using power, too.

“It’s a double whammy,” he said. “We’re trying to get everyone to understand the issues.”

Brendien said ISO New England will be issuing 21-day forecasts for utilities and governments to be able to make better choices about power needs in advance. One emphasis will be urging conservation during extreme weather. Brabdien said people could be encouraged to turn down their thermostats and limit using appliances like washing machines and electric stoves during cold spells. 

If not, controlled power outages are not out of the question.

“We operate in winter very close to the edge here in New England,” van Welie said. “The 15 million people in New England need to understand the precarious position we are in when we have an extended period of extreme cold weather.”

Van Welie acknowledged alternatives to fossil fuels are necessary, but there needs to be a plan in place. Hydroelectric power from Quebec could be part of the solution, but it’s not the complete answer, he said. The region needs to consider investing in a system that allows for up to two weeks of power generation using a source that doesn’t need to be imported. 

A modular nuclear reactor could take care of the problem, he said, but in the current political climate is unlikely to get approved. Green fuels, like green hydrogen, are prohibitively expensive. That means power generators need LNG and oil to bridge the gap, and those power plants need to have a reliable reserve.

“Lots of actions have been attempted over the years. Unfortunately, we still haven’t solved this problem,” van Welie said. “The region needs a more robust solution than what we have.” 

Infrastructure Bill Spends $17M to Charge EVs in NH That Nobody Drives

President Joe Biden came to New Hampshire Tuesday to hit the “local money” message hard: The infrastructure bill means big bucks for Granite State projects.

“Folks, it’s not hyperbole to say your delegation is laser-focused on your needs — the people of New Hampshire,” Biden said Tuesday at the bridge in Woodstock. “The concerns that are discussed around your kitchen tables. This isn’t esoteric. It’s about what happens to ordinary people.”

Ordinary people who drive electric vehicles.

According to a White House press handout for Biden’s trip to Woodstock, N.H., “Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, New Hampshire would expect to receive $17 million over five years to support the expansion of an EV charging network in the state. New Hampshire will also have the opportunity to apply for the $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to EV charging in the bill.”

It’s part of the “$7.5 billion to build out the first-ever national network of EV chargers in the United States.”

Spending $17 million on EV charging stations in New Hampshire is an interesting investment of tax money given that, statistically speaking, there aren’t any EVs in New Hampshire. According to vehicle registration data, as of the end of 2020, there were just 2,690 EVs in the entire state.

Taxpayers will be spending $6,319.70 per EV in the Granite State. If the state somehow gets that $2.5 billion in grant funding, it would be more than $833,000 per electric car.

And that’s on top of the general tax subsidies people who buy EVs already get. The federal electric vehicle tax credit program gives up to $7,500 in taxpayer dollars for qualifying purchases. Households earning more than $100,000 collect about 80 percent of those EV kickbacks.

Not that there are a lot of EVs nationwide, either.

Of the more than 276 million vehicles registered in the United States, fewer than 1.5 million are plug-in electric vehicles and another 5.4 million are hybrid electric. That’s less than 2 percent of the registered vehicles on the road, and nearly half of all electric vehicles in the country are in California alone.

In fact, in 2017 more EVs were sold in California than all other states combined.

The EV money is also another example of New Hampshire getting less funding from the infrastructure bill than its neighbors in Vermont. Despite having less than half the Granite State’s population, Vermont will receive $21 million for its EV charging network, or $9,417 per electric vehicle.

All four members of the New Hampshire delegation voted for the $7.5 billion as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Rep. Annie Kuster has pushed to get even more EV charging money in the social programs/green energy reconciliation budget bill.

“Folks, when you see these projects starting in your hometown, I want you to feel what I feel: Pride,” Biden said as he stood on the Green Bridge in Woodstock.

It’s unlikely more than a handful of EVs have ever driven across that span.

BREAKING: Gov. Sununu Vetoes Two Energy Bills

As first exclusively reported here at NHJournal, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed two energy bills this morning that would have put upward pressure on energy prices in the Granite State.

“Senate Bills 365 and 446 combined would cost New Hampshire electric ratepayers approximately $100 million over the next three years,” Sununu said in his veto message.  “New Hampshire has some of the highest electric rates in the country, placing financial strain on the elderly, those on fixed incomes and the business community.  These bills send our state in exactly the wrong direction.”

SB 446 raises the limit on “net metering” of power from solar generators covered by a state buy-back mandate from one megawatt to five.  “While I agree that expanding net metering could be a benefit to our state, Senate Bill 446 would cost ratepayers at least $5 to 10 million annually and is a handout to large scale energy developers. These immense projects should use incentives already available and compete on their own merits,” Sununu said.

The other bill vetoed by Gov. Sununu Tuesday morning,  SB 365, requires utilities to buy the entire output from a group of older biomass generators at above-market rates. “It would cost New Hampshire ratepayers approximately $25 million a year over the next 3 years, on top of the subsidy for these plants that already became law last year through Senate Bill 129,” Gov. Sununu said.  “It harms our most vulnerable ratepayers and our job creators for the benefit of a select few.”

“Consistent with our state’s 10 Year Energy Strategy, I am committed to working to encourage and advance renewable energy generation and fuel diversity without unjustly burdening the ratepayers of New Hampshire,” Sununu said.

Given that both of these bills passed the New Hampshire legislature with large, bipartisan majorities,  there was some question about whether Gov. Sununu–who is up fo re-election this November–would veto them or let them become law without his signature.  For Republicans in states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (like New Hampshire), the current political environment is challenging.  Vetoing bills with a green/progressive constituency carries risk, particularly given the political turmoil of the Trump era and its impact on the Republican Party’s standing.

At the same time, the Cook Political Report just revised their analysis of the NH Governor’s race from “Leans Republican” to Likely Republican.” Sununu is one of the five most popular governors in the US and he’s taken steps–like signing the transgender bill two weeks ago–to show he’s not a movement ideologue.  As Saint Anselm College political science professor Christopher Galdieri said when he signed the transgender rights bill, “He feels like he is comfortably ahead enough that he can afford to lose a few social conservative votes.”

By vetoing these energy-subsidy bills, Sununu is both advancing his administration’s pro-ratepayer approach to energy policy and reminding a traditional Republican constituency–businesses–that he’s an ally.

The only question remaining is what Sununu will do about a third bill, SB 577, which extends existing (and expensive) subsidies to the Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin. Unlike the other two subsidy bills, this one has a strong constituency of hundreds of jobs directly tied to the facility and powerful political interests like Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley.

Multiple sources close to the governor and familiar with his thinking believe Sununu will likely let SB 577 become law without his signature, as he did with last year’s expensive energy-subsidies bill, SB 129. This will placate the Burgess backers–the most passionate supporters of these bills–and make it less likely they will mount a successful veto override.

For opponents of “picking winners and losers,” as the Sununu administration’s 10-Year Energy Strategy puts it, these vetoes are two-thirds of a loaf. But after last year’s legislation and in the current political climate, free market energy advocates will take it.

Capt. James McCormick: NH Needs to Prioritize Energy Independence, Infrastructure Development

Every year, members of Vets4Energy pick a region of the country to travel the Purple Heart Trail in their vehicles. This year, they picked New England, bringing several U.S. military veterans through New Hampshire as they advocate for policies that increase America’s energy independence.

The Purple Heart Trail is meant to be a visual reminder to those who use the road system that there are people who paid a high price to give Americans the freedom to travel and live in a free society. Retired Army Capt. James McCormick, who is also the national program director for Vets4Energy, uses the experience to educate people along the route about his organization’s mission and how energy issues impact national security.

“A lot of people don’t think about those things,” McCormick told NH Journal. “Vets4Energy was the point where I could get engaged in something that could be an extension of my military service and contribution of the defense and security of this nation.”

There is a high number of veterans in the energy industry. The largest percentage of veterans work in corn ethanol and they make up about 19 percent of the workforce, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Department. About 18 percent are in the woody biomass fuel/cellulosic biofuels sector, 11 percent in solar, and 9.8 percent in both wind and natural gas. However, there are more veterans in the natural gas and oil industry because its the largest energy sector, supporting 8 percent of the U.S. economy.

Capt. James McCormick, program director for Vets4Energy (Photo Credit: Vets4Energy website)

Capt. James McCormick, program director for Vets4Energy (Photo Credit: Vets4Energy website)

McCormick retired from the Army after 22 years of service and now resides in West Virginia with his wife Heather. They have eight children, and he is also an organic farmer.

“I learned that there are two things you can’t fight without and that’s food and fuel, so ironically I’m involved in both aspects,” he said.

He was in Concord Thursday as he was wrapping up his route on the Purple Heart Trail. He and his colleagues started in Ohio, drove through northern Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls, across upstate New York, into Vermont, and through Concord. They drove to Portland, Maine on Thursday and then to Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, before going back to West Virginia to plant 55 maple trees in memory of their Gold Star members.

Vets4Energy boasts membership in all 50 states, including New Hampshire, and McCormick said the organization embraces an “all-the-above” energy approach, which includes wind, solar, hydropower, and natural gas and oil.

“We don’t condemn any other resources,” McCormick said. “We see the need for infrastructure development and how that relates to the big picture. The big picture is how do we heat our homes, how do we fuel our vehicles, how do we get from point A to point B, and where does that energy come from?”

The veterans group is pushing hard for oil and natural gas infrastructure projects, like the Keystone XL pipeline, “because it is the cheapest and most available resource we have for energy.” That’s not too surprising since Vets4Energy is sponsored and funded by the American Petroleum Institute. Yet, their membership includes veterans who work in various energy sectors.

“We’re not saying that there isn’t an opportunity for us to come to a point where it is totally renewable one day in the future,” McCormick said. “But what we are saying is that if we don’t do it smartly and we shut everything off at once, we’re not going to be existent as a country because we won’t be able to fire up the tanks or fire up the missile systems to defend ourselves.”

He said the group doesn’t like to get too political. They don’t endorse candidates in elections and work with people across the political spectrum.

“We’re just focused on the facts,” he said. “The truth is that our country is still dependent on imports for energy, and we should not be at the level. We should be exporting it and selling it. We should become the world leader.”

Although he’s not from the New England area, McCormick says he pays attention to what energy issues the northeast is facing. New Hampshire’s electricity prices are still some of the highest in the nation, at about 58 percent higher than the national average.

“When you look at how can we improve the economy of New England, that’s very simple,” he said. “We push the infrastructure development, we increase the number of pipelines, and we become more focused on an energy independent attitude. If we want to ‘Live Free or Die,’ the way we live free is to not be dependent on importing energy.”

The state is currently reviewing the application for the Northern Pass project, a 192-mile hydroelectric transmission line stretching from Canada to Deerfield. It’s a controversial proposal that has supporters wanting to bring more energy into the state and opponents saying the project would hurt tourism and ruin New Hampshire’s vistas. Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the New Hampshire State House on Sunday to oppose the project.

Although McCormick didn’t directly say he supported the project, he said the state needs to invest in big infrastructure projects to become energy independent and to create new jobs, which will help the economy.

“Without infrastructure development, you’re putting a Band-Aid over a bullet hole,” he said. “I’ve been shot a few times and I know that those don’t work.”

Follow Kyle on Twitter.

Sign up for NH Journal’s must-read morning political newsletter.

Updating New Hampshire’s Energy Infrastructure Should Be a Priority

When I ran for and served in office, it was because I wanted to bring a new, younger perspective to the political process. There were voices that I felt weren’t being heard above the noise created by the same, tired, old politics of the past. I felt that we needed new solutions to address critical issues in our state. We needed to tackle these problems to move our state and our economy forward to create more prosperity and a higher quality of life for everyone in New Hampshire — particularly for young people like me. One of those critical areas was energy.

Energy is different from most other issues dealt with in Concord, because it has the ability to touch our lives in so many different ways.

One of the great developments of the past decade has been an energy renaissance in America. Thanks to technological advances, we’re now able to produce so much energy, particularly from natural gas, that the United States has become the world’s leading producer of energy.

That’s right. We produce more than Russia, more than China, and more than the OPEC nations of the Middle East.

And natural gas is touching our lives in more ways than most people realize.

Natural gas helps to heat and power manufacturing facilities that produce busses for public transportation, components for bicycles, the clothing and shoes that we wear; it’s used in making our cell phones and computers, and the furniture, carpeting and wood floors in our homes.  It is used in making fertilizer.  And of course it cooks the food we eat.

All of this is made possible by natural gas.

On top of all of that, natural gas is improving our environment. Because it is displacing coal as an electric generator, carbon emissions have fallen to near 20-year lows as natural gas production has increased.

Clean-burning natural gas helps to empower other renewable, green energy options by providing power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. With natural gas providing a solid foundation for our state’s energy needs, we’re able to operate with a comprehensive, all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes solar and wind power. This only serves to further protect our environment, while balancing those interests with maintaining a high quality of life for everyone in New Hampshire.

But there’s still work to be done so that our state’s economy can take full advantage of the benefits of natural gas.

The rapid expansion of natural gas production has created a problem for our state and our region. We don’t currently have energy infrastructure that is sufficient to handle the increased load of natural gas that needs to be transported and then delivered to our homes, businesses and factories as well as our electric generators.

Our energy infrastructure is out of date, and we need to make it a priority to bring it into the 21st century.

The abundance of natural gas has reduced energy costs in states from coast to coast, but because our energy infrastructure is inadequate to meet current demand, we’re paying higher than necessary energy costs.

That’s money that could be put back into our local communities, donated to charity, saved for retirement, or put aside for unexpected health care costs.

Right now, our state’s high energy costs are a significant driver of jobs leaving New Hampshire. We need to take action to make sure that these jobs stay in our state, for my generation and for everyone who lives and works in New Hampshire.

The way we begin to do that is to tackle this problem head-on. It’s time that we make updating our energy infrastructure a priority in New Hampshire and New England.