Mass. should import wind power from Canada

By looking north, we can meet our emissions reduction goals

RIGHT NOW, New England’s energy future sits at a crossroads.

The New England states have made some of the most ambitious clean energy and carbon emission reduction goals in the entire country. Despite these commitments, the truth is there is simply not enough clean energy generation capacity available right now – or in the near future, for that matter.

Cost-effective, large-scale wind power is going to be critically important to fulfilling the promise of New England’s renewable energy future and much of the best sources of such power are beyond our borders in eastern Canada. In 2016, Canada commissioned 21 new wind power projects, generating 702 megawatts in newly installed capacity and bringing the country to a grand total of nearly 12,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, enough to power 3 million households.

From 2012 to 2016, the rate of this installed capacity has grown by 18 percent each year. In fact, Canada has generated more wind energy over the past 11 years than any other form of electricity generation. The reason for this growth is simple: high wind speeds coupled with proximity to major energy markets means lower costs compared to other forms of clean power.

Getting these projects financed out of the development phase and brought within reach of New England customers and communities will require two things: a long-term contract for their output and large-scale new transmission. With Massachusetts on the precipice of one of the largest electric power procurements in its history, the Commonwealth has an opportunity to deliver both of those things.

Of course, the solution here can’t be to rob Peter to pay Paul. In other words, we cannot take clean energy generation already in operation from Canada for the benefit of New England which, in turn, will force Canadian communities to use traditional fuels to compensate for their newfound loss of power. In that case, all you’ve done is redirect the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from one region to another, keeping the net carbon emission output the same as before.

That kind of energy displacement, also called leakage, undermines the overarching goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. What we need is a solution that can strike the right balance: leveraging the vast Canadian energy potential to curb carbon emissions in New England and meet our regional renewable energy goals, without resulting in leakage on either side of the border. Minimizing higher emissions caused by leakage is a guideline underscored in Massachusetts’ revised Global Warming Solutions Act. New wind power from nearby Canada, coupled with a  responsibly-developed transmission system to deliver it, meets this challenge. [National Grid’s proposal for the Massachusetts clean energy procurement would deliver 1,200 megawatts of wind power from Canada.]

The Commonwealth’s historic upcoming electric power purchase is also an important opportunity to help Massachusetts businesses.  General Electric, a key employer in the Commonwealth who recently moved its headquarters to Boston, is a major supplier of high-value components, such as high-voltage direct-current converter stations and wind turbines. Creating a win-win means contracting with projects that are partnering with Massachusetts-based companies, like GE, so that the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake will stay right here, in the Commonwealth.

Meet the Author

Will Hazelip

Vice president for business development, National Grid Ventures
Spurring new sources of cost-effective wind power represents New England’s biggest and best opportunity to make meaningful progress toward a cleaner environment for future generations. This goal has increasingly become essential as the specter of climate change looms over the horizon. Achieving this transformation requires bold action, and by looking to the north we can work together to make it happen.

Will Hazelip is vice president for business development at National Grid Ventures. National Grid’s proposal for the Massachusetts clean energy procurement calls for the importation of 1,200 megawatts of wind power from Canada.