Quebec hydropower is ‘shell game’

It’s not new clean energy, so benefits are minimal

RON GERWATOWSKI’S OP-ED (“Price shouldn’t be sole focus of clean energy buys”) makes an essential point about clean-energy procurement. In the end, Massachusetts’ historic legislation to harness significantly more renewable energy will involve tradeoffs.

But in highlighting the potential of hydropower, Gerwatowski ignores a crucially important distinction: Not all clean energy procurement is created equal. Fresh generation, rather than redirected existing sources, achieves the true spirit of meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals.

A range of supply options qualify as clean power under the Clean Energy RFP. Still, distinctions should be made in order to make the most meaningful progress possible toward a sustainable energy future.  Getting power from generation that is in or nearing operation – that is, generation whose environmental benefits are already being realized – will do little to reduce emissions in comparison to large-scale Class I generation resources like wind and solar.

Indeed, taking Quebec hydropower currently being delivered to neighboring regions and re-directing 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.

Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is the true intent of the legislation, not creating the illusion of meeting such goals through creative accounting. That means developing new clean generation resources rather than shifting around existing power flows, enhancing competition and increasing supply diversity to the benefit of Commonwealth customers.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy RFP evaluation process should strongly consider these attributes as part of the selection process.

It’s also important to note that large-scale, new Class I resources (primarily wind and solar), coupled with innovatively-designed, locally-supported new transmission lines, offer customers renewable power at prices that are highly competitive with other large-scale supply options.

The bottom line: Power customers deserve the greatest possible environmental benefit at the best price.

At the same time, environmental and customer interests often find themselves at odds with one another. With 50-plus bids responding to the state’s RFP, the industry and the Commonwealth have been afforded a broad range of supply options, offering ample opportunity to ensure that both of these critical interests are met.

Meet the Author

John Flynn

Senior vice president of US development, National Grid
The Commonwealth’s energy future is promising. The Global Warming Solutions Act and the Clean Energy Standard provide the framework to shape the Commonwealth’s and the region’s energy landscape for a generation. Industry leaders and policymakers will only have one shot at this. We owe it to future generations to get it right.

John Flynn is senior vice president of US strategy & business development at National Grid.