Coming Home To Roost

After years of anti-everything activists putting the kibosh on every project that would provide more energy here in New England, the fruits of those efforts are finally making themselves known and not in a good way.

A much needed natural gas pipeline – the Kinder Morgan pipeline from Pennsylvania – was blocked, meaning readily available and less expensive natural gas will not be coming into New England. That means it is dependent upon natural gas coming from overseas, with much of it coming from countries hostile to the US, specifically Yemen and Russia. Can the activists who killed the pipeline explain to us how natural gas from halfway around the world from unreliable sources is somehow better than natural gas from Pennsylvania? I remember one such anti-pipeline activist complaining about the proposed pipeline, dismayed that “the only reason they want to build the pipeline is to make money”. Excuse me?

Why does any business do anything? It isn’t to go bankrupt. It has to make money in order to stay in business. If they have stockholders, then it has to make money, make a profit in order to meet the expectations of stockholders: generate income for those same stockholders.

What some of those same anti-pipeline activists didn’t realize (or chose to ignore) is that natural gas is used to generate electricity, not just heat homes and businesses.

Then there’s two different but related power line projects that would have brought thousands of megawatts of green electricity into New England from Quebec that have been blocked. Or should I say one has been blocked and another is on the brink of being blocked.

The Northern Pass Project would have brought a power line from Hydro Quebec through New Hampshire and into central Massachusetts. From there it would be directed wherever it was needed in New England by ISO New England. But opposition to the power line, even after changes were made to place them underground in some locations in deference to those who were dismayed about the new power line cutting across the more scenic areas of the northern part of New Hampshire, was fierce. In the end, the opponents won and the project was dead and those thousands of megawatts of electrical power were not going to come to New England.

The Central Main Power Project in Maine was the second attempt to get those thousands of megawatts of power into New England. Again, the power line would run into central Massachusetts and the power would be distributed/controlled by ISO New England. But again opposition to the project has been working to block it. A ballot initiative to make the project illegal ex post facto passed in November and its status is up in the air even though a lot of work had already been done as part of the construction progress.

The permanent shutdown of some existing powerplants and new electrical sources being being blocked even as the demand for electricity has been growing has put New England in an energy bind. In fact, ISO New England has warned that rolling blackouts could become necessary over the winter if the wrong conditions occur.

New England power grid operators are warning of the small but potentially disastrous possibility of rolling winter blackouts for New England under certain circumstances.

Such a move would depend on the weather and an energy supply chain being described as "fragile."

"We can keep the lights on in the wintertime with the current resource base, as long as something bad doesn't happen,” Gordon Van Welie, CEO of ISO New England, said in 2016.

For years now, Van Welie has issued the same warning. He says the regional power grid is vulnerable to a winter one-two punch of an extended cold snap combined with an interruption in supply or power generation. The result would be rolling blackouts in frigid temperatures.


Today, Van Welie says the danger is even more significant.

"Because we have some 2,000 megawatts fewer firm resources on the system,” Van Welie said.

Considering it can get well below zero here in New England, such blackouts can be potentially dangerous even if they occur for only an hour or two. If the natural gas pipeline had been built or the Northern Pass project had been completed, that ‘missing’ 2000 megawatts would already have been replaced.

What I have found ironic is that a number of folks I know who were against the projects have also been complaining about their their electricity bills and how much they’ve gone up. (Some folks are seeing a 50% increase in their rates for the winter. Not that they were all that low before then.)

What’s even more ironic (or maybe moronic) is that many of those same folks seem to think renewables like wind and solar can make up that deficit easily. (Note: We don’t have anywhere near that capacity here in New England.) However, they apparently didn’t see what happened in Texas last winter (most of the wind turbines were offline because of the cold temps and ice buildup on the turbine blades so they couldn’t provide power to make up for some of the natural gas plants being offline due to frozen valves and pumps) or similar problems seen in Europe.

I wonder if the anti-everything activists will ever make the connection between their ‘wins’ and that they’re sitting in the dark on a cold winter night?

Probably not.