New England opts for dirty, expensive energy

New England opts for dirty, expensive energy
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Voters and regulators in the Northeast region of the US reject projects to improve their transmission network

The electrical options of New England, in the east coast of the USA, are a disaster. As in Japan, power operators in the region have shut down nuclear and coal-fired power plants, relying more on solar and wind power. But the unwillingness to build pipelines and improve electrical transmission creates a more expensive, dirtier, and potentially more unstable system.

The power grid in the area, which includes six northeastern states, is scheduled to shut down or has already shut down about 7,000 megawatts of power generation in the past decade, mostly coal and nuclear. Natural gas, which now provides half of the region’s energy, and green energy from wind and other sources have filled the gap. Cost is part of one reason. Wind power is free and gas is cheap. So power sources with high regulatory burdens or those that can’t quickly start taking advantage of price spikes can’t compete.

The problem is that New England’s current pipeline structure can’t keep up with demand during cold snaps. Additional pipeline projects, such as the $3 billion (€2.6 billion) Kinder Morgan project, have been abandoned in the face of political opposition. Increasing hydropower transmission from places like Quebec, Canada, could balance wind and solar, allow dirty plants to shut down and provide power when gas lines run dry. But in December, Maine voters rejected a proposed bill. A similar plan was rejected by New Hampshire regulators in 2018.

The New England grid operator warned in December that a winter as cold as 2014 could lead to blackouts. Pay more to keep existing supplies available, such as a 2019 agreement with one of the region’s two remaining nuclear plants, and an agreement to keep a gas plant open until 2024 to subsidize a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import facility. ) nearby, are patches. The incorporation of offshore wind energy, which is promising, takes years to get off the ground and still requires support.

New Englanders are not alone in their political incoherence. Texas doesn’t like blackouts, but it doesn’t build the transmission to avoid them. Japan and Germany want to decarbonize while closing nuclear power plants, which increases emissions and dependence on imported gas, subject to price fluctuations. In Japan, for example, the share of coal has increased since the Fukushima disaster, and that of LNG even more, causing occasional price swings. In the previous January, wholesale power prices in Japan reached 2,100 euros per megawatt-hour, or about 12 times the inflated prices in New England on Monday afternoon.

Power grids are fabulously complex, and voters often think of power and transmission issues as one-offs. Another cold winter could make them regret their lack of options.