My Turn: Recent events show necessity of PSNH power plants
These are unprecedented times for our region’s energy grid and marketplace. Ensuring that the lights remain on and our homes are heated, at affordable prices, is a challenge given current conditions. It’s a solvable challenge, but only if we acknowledge and deal with it appropriately.
New England’s increasing reliance on natural gas to produce electricity despite limited pipeline capacity, coupled with the retirement of older, nuclear and fossil-fueled facilities, have challenged our regional power system during times of extreme temperatures. With no end in sight to a winter that has featured prolonged periods of extreme cold, New Hampshire and New England are fortunate that PSNH’s power generation facilities are reliably responding to customer demand and filling the void left by natural gas fueled power plants.
At times last week, more than 75 percent of the natural gas generation installed in New England was not running, as its fuel supply was consumed for heating purposes. As we are part of a single regional power grid, this affected New Hampshire significantly.
PSNH’s infrequently-used jet turbine generators were called on to operate for extended periods during times of high demand. Additionally, the market prices for gas and electricity have been extremely volatile. This volatility will ultimately lead to higher costs to customers and could be exacerbated by the planned retirement of additional non-gas fired generation.
PSNH is the only utility in New England that still operates its own state-regulated power-generation facilities for the benefit and protection of its customers. Even in the face of the recent reliability challenges and market volatility, there are some who insist that PSNH generation facilities are not needed and should be shut down. The reality of our current situation, however, says otherwise. The fact that our fossil-fueled and hydroelectric facilities and even our jet- fueled combustion turbines have been counted on this winter to keep the lights on and prices stable is evidence of the value these plants bring to PSNH customers.
Recently, I urged New Hampshire business leaders and decision-makers to consider a three-pronged strategy to help ensure citizens continue to receive reliable, cost- effective energy for years to come. It begins with recognizing the importance of continued operation of PSNH’s existing and diversely fueled generation fleet. An energy portfolio with a diversity of resources is our best long-term hedge against over-dependence on any single fuel source.
Next, it’s essential that new, large-scale, clean energy solutions, like the Northern Pass project, be developed to ensure a more secure energy future. The Northern Pass will uniquely benefit New Hampshire’s economy, community tax base, and energy costs, and it will also help protect the region from the increasing risk of over-reliance on natural gas as a fuel source for electricity generation. Along with a growing number of New Hampshire citizens, I believe Northern Pass is the most feasible renewable initiative in New England. Its hydroelectric power can be regulated to meet the system demand, it’s not dependent on the weather or natural gas, and it will help stabilize energy prices.
Finally, it’s my hope that New Hampshire is active and diligent in engaging in a long-term energy policy dialogue that incorporates all points of view and interests. Our regional grid may be challenged at the moment, but New Hampshire can play a major role in ensuring that it never breaks.
(William Quinlan is president and COO of Public Service of New Hampshire.)