• ECHO Action Editor

Energy policy a top issue in campaign (WMUR)


"This didn't take long! Why didn't WMUR interview Dan Dolan from Engie who explained that LNG contracts made all the difference these last two winters? Gordon van Welie famously refused to contract for LNG for the Winter Reliability Program in 2013-2014, saying that it would "send the wrong market signals!" Apparently, the "right" market signal would build support for more fracked gas pipelines." - Pat Martin

Our friend, Cathy Corkery, Director of NH Sierra Club is quoted in this WMUR segment.


One of the key issues for New England in this election season is energy policy.

The winter months are when the region's power grid is put to the test. On the coldest days of 2013, when temperatures barely rose above zero, demand nearly overwhelmed the system.

"We came the closest we've ever been to putting the lights out during the winter period," said Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of ISO New England.

It would have been an unprecedented failure, but van Welie recently said that the current state of the grid is even more precarious.

"And I chose that word carefully because we can keep the lights on in the wintertime with the current resource base as long as something bad doesn't happen," he said.

Van Welie said he's worried about New England's energy future. Over the next three years, the grid will lose two major power plants in Massachusetts: a coal- and oil-fired facility at Brayton Point and the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

Van Welie said that renewable energy resources and the current natural gas infrastructure won't be able to make up the difference.

"Something's got to give in this equation," he said. "We can't just keep losing non-gas resources without doing something about replacing that energy, and/or beefing up the gas infrastructure within the region."

But energy projects have become increasingly controversial. Northern Pass remains a hot-button issue in the North Country, and the proposed Northeast Direct gas pipeline through the Monadnock Region fell through after facing widespread opposition.

Environmentalists are hoping to make the energy economy free of fossil fuels by mid-century.

"Obviously, we still have a ways to go," said Jordan Stutt, policy analyst for the Acadia Center. "We're still pretty dependent on some fossil fuels, but as we continue to invest in new energy technologies -- as those costs come down, as we build out the infrastructure for distributed energy generation -- I think we will be able to achieve that goal."

Stuck in the middle are the ratepayers. Some are looking into generating their own power from wind or solar to defray rising energy costs.

"When you ask people if they could help and be a part of that new energy future, they want to be a part of it, and they want clean energy," said Catherine Corkery of the Sierra Club.

But for most, home generation remains out of reach. Public utilities insiders said that even for the government, major investment in wind and solar isn't cheap.

"If you're going to get more renewable energy, if you want to get less carbon dioxide, it's going to cost you more money, and we have to accept the reality of that if that's the way we want to go," said Michael Harrington, former Public Utilities Commission commissioner.

Utility officials said that until battery technology improves for wind and solar power, the grid needs natural gas to meet peak demand.

"Because you can't always rely on the weather to give you the energy production you're looking for," van Welie said.

Van Welie said that utility officials might need to delay aging plants from retiring to make sure the lights stay on during the New England winters.


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