By Ed Krapels and Stan Blazewicz
With Entergy’s decision [in October 2015] to close the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, Mass., New England has an opportunity to increase the supply of clean energy to the region. The Pilgrim closure is part of an array of market and environmental pressures that are shutting down the oil, coal and nuclear plants that have sustained the region for years.
Left to the market, this zero-carbon resource will be replaced by a natural gas-fired power plant – a big step backward in the state and region’s hopes to reduce carbon emissions. Fortunately, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed an energy bill in August 2016 that will allow the state to participate in a big regional effort to build clean energy infrastructure that will efficiently bring substantial wind and hydropower resources to consumers at reasonable prices.
The news of Pilgrim’s closure can be the shot heard ‘round the region. It can serve as a kick-start to the modernization of our electric grid, from one that delivers fossil fuel to one that delivers scalable amounts of clean and renewable energy.
Large-scale wind and hydro resources that can replace Pilgrim’s power (and that of other retiring power plants) are available to New Englanders, but they’re far from urban areas. The electric grid we now use was built for dirty power.
The Pilgrim plant closing makes it even more urgent to rebuild the grid for clean energy. Adding clean energy transmission capacity makes sense. New England states place a premium on certain types of renewable energy, qualifying them for renewable energy credits, or RECs. While the standards that define these REC-eligible sources vary, wind energy is the lowest-cost resource that qualifies in all the states.
For the most part, large-scale hydropower does not qualify for those credits in the region’s energy market. Nevertheless, governors and legislators generally support “more hydro” as part of a zero- carbon energy package.
There are ample wind resources in northern Maine and northeastern New York. On the hydro side, there is supply available both from the Canadian province of Quebec and the Maritimes. If we built transmission only for wind, the line would be empty whenever the wind doesn’t blow. That’s not efficient. If the region built an all-hydropower transmission line, it would still need to build separate large-scale transmission lines to satisfy its need for REC-eligible wind energy.
So transmission lines that pair hydro and wind would allow these complementary resources to work together: When the wind blows, New England can get REC-eligible energy, and when it doesn’t, hydroelectricity from Quebec and the Maritimes would have the opportunity to fill the line. Ideally, the wind and hydro for these projects would be incremental: The idea is not to divert existing clean power from one state to another but to provide an outlet for “bottled up” clean power.
When incremental wind and incremental hydropower work together, Quebec and the New England states both win. They get a “two for one:” REC-eligible wind and carbon-free hydro, both affordable. Together, wind and hydro are a formidable combination.
Given New England’s need to diversify its fuel supply, and given the difficulty of siting and paying for transmission, the answer is clear: New England states need to bring wind and hydro, together, into the region via the most efficient, permittable, resilient and buildable transmission projects. The Pilgrim nuclear plant retires in less than three years; that sounds like a long time, but in “energy years” it’s the blink of an eye. We should act now.
Editor’s Note: This blog was published by the Boston Globe in October 2015 and is reprinted with permission from the authors.
Ed Krapels is chief executive officer of Anbaric, an electricity transmission development firm. Stan Blazewicz is vice president of business development at National Grid.