Brayton Pt closing ups need for gas

Brayton Pt closing ups need for gas

New pipeline capacity needed to match supply, demand

AS BADLY AS ALL OF US in Massachusetts have been needing improved access to natural gas, Wednesday at midnight our need–and the challenge to our economy and energy security–grow even more critical.

The reason? Wednesday at midnight is when the giant, coal-powered Brayton Point electric generating station in Somerset, Massachusetts, shuts down for good.

For decades, Brayton Point has had the capacity to power as many as 1.5 million New England homes. But like coal plants around the country, it’s proven unable to compete economically while complying with ever-stricter emissions rules, and so is being shut down.

When Brayton Point goes out of service, the only way the loss of that power can be covered is through even greater reliance on power plants fueled by natural gas.

And if Massachusetts and New England can’t finally find a way to stop saying no to seemingly every single proposal to improve our energy infrastructure, including long-overdue natural gas pipeline improvements, we’re looking at the risk of soaring electric rates and unreliable service. The question is not if, but when.

Most Massachusetts residents likely are unaware of how dependent we now are on natural gas to keep our lights and computers on, our smartphones charged up, and our refrigerators and air conditioners working.

In 2015, according to US Energy Department data, nearly two-thirds of all the electricity generated in Massachusetts – 64 percent – came from power plants that run on natural gas. Across all of New England, in no small part because of environmentalists rightly pushing for cleaner-burning gas plants to replace coal and oil for electric generation, natural gas has grown from supplying just 5 percent of the region’s electricity in 1990 to now nearly 50 percent.

This has been excellent news for the air we breathe in Massachusetts and across New England. Because natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide as coal and oil, and a tiny fraction of smog-making emissions, from 1999 to 2014 increased use of gas helped New England slash CO2 emissions 26 percent, nitrogen oxides 66 percent, and sulfur dioxide 94 percent. For your lungs and your eyes, especially if you have asthma or another respiratory illness, natural gas has helped make New England markedly healthier.

All that said, however, increased reliance on natural gas means we can’t keep putting off and denying the need to ensure supply can meet demand. During the “polar vortex” winter of 2014, for example, constraints on natural gas supply meant we got socked with an extra $3.7 billion on our heating and electric bills and gas-fired power plants had to switch to burning higher-emitting oil to stave off blackouts. Month in and month out, our inadequate access to abundant natural gas in Pennsylvania means we pay some of the highest electric and heating bills in the country.

Renewable energy is an exciting development—but it will take decades for enough renewables to come online to replace Brayton Point. The earliest we might see offshore wind really producing electricity for Massachusetts is the mid-2020s, if everything goes right. Our need for natural gas to ensure our energy security will soar again two years from now when the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth shuts down.

Meet the Author

Steve Dodge

Executive director, Massachusetts Petroleum Council
New England has needed for years to increase its access to affordable, reliable, abundant natural gas. It’s critical to our economic competitiveness, to working families struggling to make ends meet, and to protecting and sustaining the huge environmental benefits natural gas has already delivered.

With Brayton Point shut down, New England’s need for natural gas is now even more urgent.

Steve Dodge is the executive director of the Massachusetts Petroleum Council.

  • NortheasternEE

    State and regional policymakers have bought in to the fantasy that renewable energy (wind and solar) is a clean alternative to fossil fuel. Their policies and regulations are distorting the competitive wholesale market for electricity to force the acceptance of more renewable energy on the grid. Twenty years ago we were told that getting 20% of our electricity from renewables would cost less without major modifications to the grid. We are not even half way to the 20% goal and we are talking about major expensive modifications. Variable Energy Resources (VER) cannot coexist on the grid with traditional baseload power from coal and nuclear power plants like Brayton Point and Pilgrim. VER grid integration is only possible if baseload coal and nuclear are replaced with flexible natural gas. There is not a pipeline big enough to bring the natural gas needed to support peak Winter demand. Other states, who have gone down this path are now forced to subsidize nuclear power and some coal power for fear that the almost exclusive dependence on natural gas will not avoid blackouts.

    Unless policymakers wake up and get real, we are headed for skyrocketing rates, an unstable grid, and rolling blackouts. See what is happening in Australia:

    Tell Beacon Hill to stop pushing renewable energy before it’s too late!

    We need both coal and nuclear for now!

  • What is not clean, is natural gas. There is developing and substantial medical evidence that natural gas in homes, via stoves, itself contributes to asthma. Moreover, as some states have done, the medical consequences of fracked gas remain untallied and unexplored, and, to the degree to which the natural gas suppliers cannot segregate fracked from non-fracked gas, increases in supply should be stopped. Moreover, for gas supplies to Massachusetts, the industry should be charged with identifying and reporting which sources are providing this gas, until these medical uncertainties are clarified.

    It’s very odd that the same cast of characters rush forward to defend natural gas, time and time again, including the contributor of the op-ed, and @NortheasternEE, who clearly has a grudge against renewable energy, because they repeatedly dismiss it as a mirage.

    The facts are that prices of renewable energy are plummeting and, to the degree to which people actually want to embrace the goals of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which are to provide low cost energy to the citizens of the state, then renewable energy of all kinds MUST be a part. Some kinds of wind energy are already cheaper than any natural gas, and the energy you do not need for your home is the cheapest of all. That means efficiency measures, and moving away from natural gas for heating and other purposes towards easier to manage and cheaper electrical energy, whether supplied and supplanted by your own solar PV array, or from a community solar farm, or from New England Wind and other sources. Moreover, the same will happen with vehicles.

    The idea that natural gas is clean is relative. It is clean only when assessed at the point it is burned, but the upstream costs, whether fugitive emissions, which are huge, or the costs and environmental destruction needed to install gas pipelines and the sidestream emissions and noise from compressor stations, all are features of that energy supply which are not needed by wind, by solar, or by hydroelectric power. Moreover, the natural gas is presently in a glut, and it is not clear that people will be able to afford the instructure they claim to want at present prices.

    Finally, this is not a fantasy. Our home is 100% electric, something we deliberately did to orphan our oil furnace which used to supply heat and hot water. See for details.

    As far as “the grid” goes, the utilities have a choice. Many are seeing the need to get with the new technology and move to wind and solar, efficiency, microgrids, electrical storage, demand response, and smart grid instrumentation. Or they can fight the transition and encounter what’s happening in Hawaii today, where the utility has convinced regulators to burden homeowners with solar with extra fees and, in response, those homeowners are purchasing third party equipment to abandon the grid altogether. That is not an optimal situation, for people should share electrons, but it is the outcome of bad policy.

    Finally, the “wholesale market” approach of ISO-NE is a 20th century, out-of-touch approach to dealing with energy. With proper prediction and projections, efficiency day-ahead spot markets are feasible. The trouble is, the gas generators cannot operate on such short notice, and so have a technological disadvantage. A grid and energy network which cannot bring the benefits of modern technology to the public is simply out-of-date, and should not rely upon policy measures to remain in business. If it can’t compete, then it should die.

  • The reason why these modifications are expensive is because local utilities are inefficient, old, and have antiquated ideas about how grids should be run. ERCOT in Texas can do it. ELIA in Europe can do it. PJM just had an auction where a combination platter of wind+solar+demand response outbid nuclear. Local utilities don’t know how to manage big datasets, and they don’t want to invest in the business-necessary sensors to determine how their customers behave or what they want. It’s entirely feasible for people to move to all electricity: