Proposed legislation would pave the way for hydroelectric imports from Canada
In a bid to replace the region’s retiring coal and nuclear power plants with cleaner energy, the Patrick administration and key lawmakers are mounting a major push behind legislation that would pave the way for the importation of large amounts of hydroelectricity from Canada.
The legislation calls for the state’s utilities to solicit proposals by the end of the year for 2,400 megawatts of energy from renewable sources (wind, solar) and/or hydroelectric power. That amount of power is enormous, roughly the equivalent of two Seabrook Power plants.
Stephen Clarke, the administration’s assistant secretary of energy at the executive office of energy affairs, said the clean energy is needed to offset the loss of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, the coal-fired Salem and Brayton Point plants, and several other plant retirements expected in the coming years. Clarke said a quarter of the region’s generating capacity is expected to be retired within roughly a decade. He said clean, replacement power is needed to keep the lights on and comply with the state’s emissions targets.
“I can’t overstate how important this is,” Clarke said. “It’s really historic in scope.”
At least four projects are in various stages of development to deliver hydropower from several Canadian provinces into New England, including one called Northern Pass pushed by Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec. Northeast Utilities owns NStar, one of the state’s biggest utilities.
Some in the energy business are already grumbling that pitting relatively cheap hydroelectric projects from Canada against more expensive renewable projects will allow the hydro projects to inflate their prices. But Clarke said he believes there will be sufficient competition to keep prices down.
“We anticipate large-scale hydro won’t be the only resource selected,” he said.Since the passage of the state’s Green Communities Act, utilities have been required to periodically solicit long-term power supply proposals from renewable energy developers. The proposed bill would expand the scope of that process and extend it to hydroelectricity, which Massachusetts does not consider a renewable form of energy.
The proposed legislation, filed by Rep. Mark Cusack of Braintree and Sen. Barry Finegold of Andover, would allow hydro to qualify for the solicitation but not for renewable energy subsidies available to wind and solar power. Under the bill, all projects accepted by the utilities would require the approval of state regulators.