National Grid, Hydro-Quebec snipe over hydro power

National Grid, Hydro-Quebec snipe over hydro power

Companies jockey for position in competition for clean energy contract

NATIONAL GRID AND HYDRO-QUEBEC, two companies competing for Massachusetts clean energy contracts, are sniping at each other over the environmental benefits of hydroelectricity in dueling CommonWealth opinion pieces.

The op-eds raise questions about the state’s priorities as it pursues clean energy and also illustrate the high stakes involved as a host of companies vie for what could be contracts worth billions of dollars.

National Grid, in partnership with Citizens Energy, is proposing two projects – one that would deliver wind power that is currently under development in Quebec and another that would provide new wind, solar, and small hydro power from New York.

Hydro-Quebec, by contrast, has submitted six bids for the Massachusetts clean energy contract with three different partners. Three of the bids are for hydroelectricity from Hydro-Quebec; the three others are for wind power from Quebec backed by hydroelectricity from Hydro-Quebec.

National Grid on Friday accused Hydro-Quebec of engaging in a shell game with its hydroelectricity exports, and urged Massachusetts regulators to give preference to newly created clean energy rather than existing power that is merely being shifted around from one customer to the next.

“Taking Quebec hydropower currently being delivered to neighboring regions and redirecting it to New England would merely increase greenhouse gas emissions in one place and reduce them in another, constituting a shell game approach to a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the Massachusetts energy portfolio,”  said John Flynn, the senior vice president of US strategy and business development at National Grid.

Steve Demers, vice president for business development at Hydro-Quebec, responded to Flynn on Monday, saying his company was not taking clean energy from one customer and selling it to another. He said the company over the last 10-15 years has been building hydroelectric generating facilities and now has enough excess power to serve a number of export markets.

Demers said Hydro-Quebec currently exports electricity to Ontario, New York, New England, and the Maritimes. In 2016, he said, the utility signed a deal to expand sales to Ontario and has submitted bids on the Massachusetts clean energy contract and a similar contract with New York.

Both the Hydro-Quebec and National Grid projects appear to meet the demands of the Massachusetts request for proposals. The National Grid projects qualify because they would supply newly developed clean energy. The Hydro-Quebec projects qualify because they would represent a net increase in hydroelectricity generation compared to the three-year historical average of deliveries into New England.

Flynn at National Grid is trying to make the case that Massachusetts should give preference to newly created clean energy because otherwise the state would be tapping an existing resource that won’t result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

A Hydro-Quebec spokeswoman issued a statement saying that, if the company wins the Massachusetts contract, it will export electricity “we are not using today.” The company said the electricity would come from Hydro-Queberc’s reservoir system, which allows the utility to store energy in the form of water in a reservoir. The statement also said the company has incremental generation coming on line from what it calls its Romaine Complex and will free up more power for export by using energy efficiency programs in Quebec to cut back on demand there.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Peter Shattuck, an environmental advocate with the Acadia Center in Boston, said Hydro-Quebec has built up its electricity generation capacity over the years on spec and is now trying to capitalize on that investment. He said he didn’t know what Hydro-Quebec is doing with excess electricity currently, but he assumed some of it might be sold on spot markets.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about what we’d be getting from Hydro-Quebec,” he said.

Dan Dolan, the president of the New England Power Generators Association, said he didn’t know the specifics of where Hydro-Quebec would be drawing its power. But he said he didn’t think Hydro-Quebec had enough generating capacity to supply Ontario, Massachusetts, and New York.  “They don’t have enough to do all three,” he said.

  • NortheasternEE

    I hope we are talking about buying power on demand, and not excess energy during periods of low demand. If it’s the latter, we will be paying premium prices for clean energy that will need backup from existing conventional power. The rising rates will be for nothing in return.