MASSACHUSETTS’ LEADERSHIP on energy policy has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move the needle on clean energy. According to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the proposal from Hydro-Québec and Central Maine Power to deliver clean energy over the New England Clean Energy Connect will result in nearly half (47 percent) of the electricity consumed by Massachusetts being generated from clean energy. Surprisingly, some environmental advocates, like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Council of Maine, oppose this opportunity and are standing with the fossil fuel industry to maintain the status quo, and sink the state’s clean energy agenda.
As close neighbors, we have the opportunity to create a powerful, regional partnership. The approval of contracts proposed in the Massachusetts clean energy procurement process will see large quantities of 100 percent hydropower flow onto the New England grid around the clock every day of the year. The agreements will return unmatched consumer value in economic and reliability benefits, while helping the Commonwealth achieve a clean energy future.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club wrongly claim that energy for the Massachusetts contract will be transferred from other electricity markets. The reality is that Hydro-Québec has additional energy available, thanks to the company’s vast northern reservoir storage system; its recent 5,000-megawatt buildout of new capacity, including a 245 MW hydro facility currently under construction; and continuous investments to increase the efficiency of its existing capacity to serve the obligations of the new Massachusetts contract while maintaining sales to other markets.
What’s lacking is enough transmission to bring that power to the New England market. The New England Clean Energy Connect unlocks Hydro- Québec hydropower potential by creating an additional transmission path from Québec to Maine.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club are also wrong to say the region faces an either/or choice between Canadian hydro or domestic renewable resources from Maine or Massachusetts. As policymakers in the New England states pursue their vision for a clean energy future, efforts to encourage more renewable energy–and gain the economic benefit of “closer-to-home” renewable projects–are more likely to find continued public support, in part, because they will be building on a foundation of affordable, clean, and reliable energy.
From an operational perspective, large hydropower is the only form of baseload clean energy supply that has the flexibility to balance the intermittency of wind and solar, particularly as concentrations of these technologies grow. Without it, the need for natural gas-based generation and the associated delivery infrastructure will continue in the region, in spite of carbon reduction mandates.
The Sierra Club’s assertions regarding Québec hydropower and methane are in complete contrast to the extensive research undertaken on Québec reservoirs by a group of experts from Université du Québec à Montréal, McGill University and Environnement Illimité Inc. Methane is not an issue in Québec, where it represents less than 1 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. While research does demonstrate that carbon dioxide emissions increase in the initial years after a reservoir is created, Québec hydropower greenhouse gas emissions are still among the lowest of all power generation options on a life-cycle basis.
The Sierra Club and the Natural Resource Council of Maine are correct on one thing—we are at an important crossroads in terms of our energy future. But if critics and competing interests can’t recognize the benefits of regional collaboration offered by this project, Massachusetts and New England are sure to face a long, uncertain search for a winning response to climate change. The only certainty will be continued heavy reliance on fossil fuel generation for the foreseeable future.
John Carroll is the director of communications for the New England Clean Energy Connect project and Lynn St-Laurent is a public affairs and media advisor for Hydro-Québec.