Will MA hydro contract increase, or decrease, emissions?
Hydro-Quebec dismisses claims by enviros, power generators
MASSACHUSETTS SIGNED a $16 billion, 20-year contract to import hydro-electricity from Quebec to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but energy advocates and other power generators are saying the deal is unlikely to move the needle on emissions and could actually increase them.
The debate revolves around the meaning of emissions. The contract will definitely lower greenhouse gas emissions in New England, which is all that is required under state law. But environmental advocates and others say Hydro-Quebec will probably be selling electrons to Massachusetts that it previously sold to other customers. The result, they say, will be no net reduction in overall emissions, and possibly an increase if the customers left behind replace the hydro power with fossil fuel generation.
“It remains unclear whether these contracts will result in overall greenhouse gas emissions beyond the Massachusetts footprint, or instead divert power from other areas, such as New York or Ontario, leaving those places to fill a gap with other sources of energy,” the Appalachian Trail Club said in a filing with the Department of Public Utilities. “The environmental benefits ratepayers stand to receive under this RFP are from actual global atmospheric greenhouse gas reductions, and there should be unequivocal confidence that these benefits will be actualized.”
Hydro-Quebec, the provincial utility supplying the power, said it was well aware that environmental groups are joining with the fossil fuel industry in questioning the benefits of the proposed Massachusetts contract for hydro-electricity.
Lynn St.-Laurent, a spokeswoman for Hydro-Quebec, said the utility plans to increase the efficiency of power generation at many of its facilities and also operate the facilities longer hours to produce more electricity for export. “Our current constraints aren’t in terms of generation, but rather transmission,” St.-Laurent said in a statement.
The utility said its contract with Massachusetts will yield a “net reduction of emissions” in New England and the Northeast by more than 3 million tons, the equivalent of taking 900,000 cars off the roads.
Dan Dolan, the president of the New England Power Generators Association, which opposes the proposed Massachusetts contract with Hydro-Quebec, said the utility hasn’t provided any details or evidence to support its claim. He said Hydro-Quebec has confirmed it plans to use existing dams and reservoirs to supply the New England market and it’s hard to believe the company is letting huge amounts of electricity go unused while its partner, Central Maine Power, builds a transmission line from Quebec into Maine to carry power.
Studies conducted on behalf of National Grid and the power generators association reinforce Dolan’s assertions. A study by ESAI Power LLC for National Grid in September 2017 said any increase in electricity exports to New England would require an equivalent reduction in exports to other regions. “To the extent that conventional, fossil-fuel generation is increased to replace the energy that otherwise would have been imported from Quebec, greenhouse gas emissions will increase and offset the reductions facilitated by the clean energy deliveries,” the report said.
James Speyer, a senior advisor at Energyzt, reached a similar conclusion in April 2017. He said Hydro-Quebec’s sales to New England would have to be offset by lower sales to other customers. He said customers in New York and other regions in the US may have to rely more on power generators using natural gas, oil, and even coal as fuel. He forecasted carbon emissions overall would go up by 384,252 metric tons using assumptions developed by a consultant working for Central Maine Power.The legislation authorizing the purchase of hydro-electricity from Canada required the purchased power to be incremental to New England and left unclear whether greenhouse gas emissions had to be reduced overall as a result of the contract. Environmental advocates have been arguing that the whole point of the contracting process is to reduce emissions overall.
The Nature Conservancy, for example, said in a filing with the DPU that the regulatory agency should determine whether Hydro-Quebec is telling the truth about its electricity exports. “If an independent analysis finds that [the exports to New England] would result in no appreciable net (global) greenhouse gas emissions reductions benefits, there would be little justification for clearing a new corridor through 53 miles of unfragmented forest in Maine” for a transmission line, the advocacy group said.