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Tom Sullivan: Environmental activists ignore energy security realities



For the Monitor
Monday, April 09, 2018

The willingness of environmental activists and their elected and appointed allies to ignore the drumbeat of bad news about the security and costs of the region’s energy supplies is a stunning abdication of responsibility for sound public policies to protect both the environment and the economy.

While responsible environmental policies are necessary, to assume that somehow New Hampshire and New England can quickly move from natural gas to 100 percent renewable energy, while avoiding any new transmission to deliver renewable energy, is naïve and dangerous.

This assumption ignores the fact that New Hampshire’s electricity rates are consistently 50 percent to 60 percent above the national average, year-round, making us one of the most expensive states for electricity in the country. This has forced employers to explore options outside New Hampshire and New England to obtain lower electricity prices.

To ignore the concerns voiced repeatedly over several years about the lack of natural gas capacity into the region, along with the value of new electric transmission through New Hampshire linking New England with Canadian hydropower, is shortsighted and jeopardizes the electricity supply of a region that depends on nearly 100 percent reliability.

Many recent events are being ignored by activists who are focused on absolute outcomes rather than a prudent transition. For example:

In just 13 days in late December and early January New England nearly ran out of power, spent nearly $1 billion in additional cost to turn on shuttered oil plants for power (adding 1 million tons of the greenhouse gases it is trying to avoid into the atmosphere) and was forced to import liquefied natural gas from a sanctioned Russian company.

In mid-January ISO-New England, responsible for the region’s electric power reliability, warned that by the winter of 2024-25 the region could face “rolling blackouts.”

We should not forget the more than $7 billion in higher energy costs incurred in New England over the three previous winters and the $1 billion of additional cost borne by ratepayers during the 13-day cold spell earlier this year. Those costs are the equivalent of a tax increase – $800 million for New Hampshire – with no benefit to energy consumers.

Despite these high costs, an appeal in Massachusetts effectively blocked regulatory authority to approve funding for natural gas pipeline plans that would have improved reliability and lowered costs. Efforts underway here in New Hampshire to do the same should be soundly rejected.

Not to be overlooked is the recent action taken by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee when it rejected, in a moment of irresponsible spontaneity, the proposed Northern Pass transmission line. This decision should be reversed immediately.

The impact of these reckless decisions undermines the case environmentalists make for a clean energy future. California, Texas and Oregon have dependable natural gas capacity and access to large hydroelectric projects that avoid the dramatic and dangerous price spikes that New England has experienced and will likely continue to experience.

To be clear, natural gas power plants and electric transmission lines do not compete with renewables, but instead work in concert with solar and wind. When the sun goes down and the wind stops, natural gas generation fills the gap. Someday, batteries or other storage technology may supplant natural gas generation, but it will not happen overnight.

Notably, the electric power generation sector in New England has made great progress in reducing emissions. Sulfur dioxide emissions are down 96 percent with nitrous oxides down 54 percent and carbon dioxide emissions down nearly 40 percent. Natural gas, along with wind and hydroelectric power delivered over transmission lines, are the driving factors behind this success.

For perspective, the electric power sector accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gases while transportation and buildings account for 80 percent. Policymakers and influencers should focus more on the real causes of greenhouse gases and accept the glaring fact that unless New Hampshire finds a path forward to expand natural gas and electric transmission capacity they are jeopardizing the region’s economic vitality.

Those same policy makers and influencers would do well to listen to Dr. Ernest Moniz, former U.S. energy secretary and MIT Energy Initiative co-founder. Dr. Moniz noted recently that “natural gas has shown itself to be an important bridge to a clean energy future.” They should also consider the experience of another major employer that supports Northern Pass, BAE Systems. They saw their energy costs in New Hampshire grow 24 percent from 2014 to 2016. A company representative stated, “There is no dispute that the best way to definitively lower electricity costs is to bring more reliable, affordable electricity into the New England power market.”

(Tom Sullivan is senior vice president of operations for ​Sturm, Ruger, and Co., Inc.)