Another shot in the pipeline wars
Has 2015 report’s author changed his tune?
THOSE WHO BELIEVE the region needs another natural gas pipeline are saying they have found a new convert – the same energy analyst who co-authored a 2015 report for Attorney General Maura Healey that was widely interpreted as suggesting New England didn’t need additional pipeline capacity.
A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Coalition for Sustainable Energy, which advocates for new pipeline capacity, pointed to a recent conference hosted by the New England Power Pool where the energy analyst’s slide presentation noted the challenge of meeting New England’s electricity needs “is getting harder, not easier,” and questioned the region’s ability to meet its winter fuel challenges. “Will anything but a blackout coalesce states around an infrastructure solution?” the presentation asked.
C.J. Chapman, the coalition spokesperson, said it appears the energy analyst, Paul Hibbard, has modified his position. “The author of the 2015 study was unambiguous in the conclusion that there would be no reliability threat prior to 2030 and, indeed, that report has been cited by many in the policy-making community to say ‘nothing needs to be done,’” Chapman said in an email. “Three years later the same author is now agreeing with the independent grid operator, and us, that we have a power adequacy problem in New England and Massachusetts. We ask the same question that Dr. Hibbard does; will it take a blackout to realize we have a problem?”
Hibbard, a principal at the Analysis Group, said his views haven’t changed. He also noted that his comments at the conference were in the role of moderator and that he has conducted no new research on the issue since the 2015 report. Still, Hibbard acknowledged that the region has made little progress on the solutions the 2015 report identified as ways to address potential power system deficiencies.
The 2015 report, written by Hibbard and Craig Aubuchon, analyzed whether New England’s heavy dependence on natural gas for electricity generation posed reliability challenges for the region, particularly in winter months when most of the gas coming into the region is used for heating. The report concluded the region was unlikely to face any problems meeting its power needs through 2030 under a base-case, status quo scenario. Under more stressful conditions, caused primarily by an increase in the region’s dependence on natural gas due to the early retirement of non-gas power plants, the study said power shortfalls could show up as early as 2024.
The report analyzed the economic and environmental pros and cons of several options for addressing the shortfalls. It said programs improving energy efficiency and importing hydro-electricity from Canada offered the best bang for the buck, followed in no particular order by greater imports of liquefied natural gas, the development of more plants capable of running on either oil or gas, and the construction of a new gas pipeline.
Hibbard said the pipeline and hydro-electricity options haven’t materialized yet, although the state is moving ahead with a contract to import power from Hydro-Quebec. He said energy efficiency efforts haven’t ramped up to levels to ease concerns. And he noted that the region’s power grid operator, ISO New England, has raised doubts about the ability of power plants to obtain liquefied natural gas and oil (for plants that can shift to oil when pipeline constraints make natural gas scarce) at peak demand periods during the winter months.
“My personal view is that reliability is paramount, and should not be compromised given the widespread public health, safety, and economic impacts of power outages,” Hibbard said in an email. “We identified the relative costs and greenhouse gas emission impacts of various solution sets that would eliminate the deficiencies we found under stressed-system conditions. Given the importance of reliability, I don’t think any options should be off the table, and policymakers need to focus on which pathways make the most sense from the perspective of consumer impact and state energy and environmental policy goals.”That statement is hardly an embrace of a new natural gas pipeline, but it’s also different from the way Attorney General Healey summarized the 2015 report. “This study demonstrates that we do not need increased gas capacity to meet electric reliability needs, and that electric ratepayers shouldn’t foot the bill for additional pipelines,” Healey said at the time. “This study demonstrates that a much more cost-effective solution is to embrace energy efficiency and demand response programs that protect ratepayers and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Hibbard declined to comment on Healey’s characterization of the 2015 report, which was done for her office and paid for by the Barr Foundation. “That report has been interpreted in many ways over the past couple years, and I have tried to be sure that my comments focus on the content of the report, and not how others have interpreted it,” he said in an email.