FOR ALMOST THREE decades, natural gas use has continued to grow in New England, while the number of pipelines feeding the region has remained stagnant. Demand has increased while supply has not.
Unfortunately, policies in the region and in neighboring states (namely New York) have restricted the development of needed infrastructure to deliver energy to the region, costing New Englanders hundreds of million dollars more to heat their homes each winter than those in nearby states. Using data from the US Energy Information Administration, we estimate that since 2010 ratepayers in Massachusetts alone have paid $3 billion more for natural gas for their homes than those in nearby Pennsylvania, where prices are significantly lower due to sufficient infrastructure.
The high costs and volatile energy prices here are rooted in the inadequacy of our natural gas infrastructure to meet peak seasonal needs. Simply put, there is limited pipeline capacity to meet increased power demands for heating and cooling during periods of extreme weather – an alarming imbalance.
In recent years, ISO New England, the independent organization that operates the regional power grid, has identified reliability and adequacy challenges, particularly in the winter. A few weeks back, representatives from the ISO noted that “natural gas pipeline constraints, coupled with global supply chain issues related to deliveries of oil and liquefied natural gas, are placing New England’s power system at heightened risk heading into the winter season.”
Talk about an unfortunate situation. New England sits a few hundred miles away from one of the most prolific natural gas producing-regions in the world, yet anti-consumer policies at the cost of pragmatism have blocked construction of critical pipeline infrastructure needed to transport domestically produced natural gas to markets here. So, we as a region are forced to turn to Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, and other places across the globe. Shipping cargo halfway across the world is far less environmentally friendly and much more costly than having domestically produced fuels piped a few hundred miles.
There is an additional wrinkle: when demand for natural gas is high and when infrastructure constraints limit access to natural gas, the regional grid operator is forced to switch to less efficient power plants with more intensive carbon fuel sources such as oil and coal.
All the constraints and complaints about pipeline construction and natural gas generation have done nothing to decrease demand for power, which is expected to continue to rise.
Maintaining reliable, affordable energy while reducing emissions is a goal we all share. But prohibiting one source of energy is not the answer and will only increase costs and threaten reliability.
We can balance energy needs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with natural gas playing a critical role. A report from the Energy Futures Initiative, headed by President Obama’s former energy secretary Ernest Moniz, concluded that there is indeed a “role for natural gas in a decarbonized world … even as countries look to transition to clean energy sources, natural gas could play a key role in fuel switching, reducing the carbon intensity of hard-to-decarbonize industrial sectors, and serving as a complement to variable renewables if paired with decarbonizing technologies or pathways such as carbon capture and blue hydrogen.”
Policymakers should be encouraging – not blocking – the construction of critical natural gas pipeline infrastructure projects for New England. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a blackout during freezing temperatures this winter to make policy makers realize the need to improve public policies and remove the bottlenecks that have cost consumers billions of dollars and now threatens reliability and affordability in our region.
Michael Giaimo is executive director of the American Petroleum Institute, northeast region.