New England Seeks to Tap Canadian Hydropower

Power-hungry southern New England wants to draw on Canada’s plentiful hydropower
Published: Fri 28 Mar 2014

Hydropower has the potential of playing a larger role in New England’s energy mix as the region’s states, including Massachusetts, move to import more of it from Canada.

Diversifying the energy mix

State leaders are aiming to diversify an energy mix that in recent years has become increasingly dominated by natural gas, which now generates about 34% of the region’s electricity, and nearly half of Massachusetts’. After a harsh winter that saw big spikes in natural gas prices, the six states have come together to ensure a more reliable – and greener – power supply that can help stabilize prices in the region-hydroelectricity.

The increase of hydroelectricity will help also help the state meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

While hydro has long been a part of the US energy mix, it has remained a small part of New England’s electricity supply — first because of questions about how dams change water flows and aquatic habitats, and later over concerns about how it would affect the market for other alternative energy resources.

Currently, hydro generation accounts for almost eight percent of net electricity generation in New England. New England governors aim to tap up to 3,600MW of renewable energy in an attempt to reduce electricity costs and offset losses as aging power plants go offline.

Requests for Proposals

In the next few months, the governors are expected to issue requests for proposals for 1,200 to 3,600MW of transmission capacity that could carry wind and hydroelectric power from the northern reaches and Canada. The aim is to ensure that the region has a reliable supply of natural gas to avoid future repeats of this winter’s extreme price increases.

One of the project proposals include “Green Line”, a 300-mile power cable which would be buried on land in Maine (possibly along railtracks) and then run across the Atlantic Ocean floor to Greater Boston. The project is one of several proposals across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and is expected to cost over US$1 billion. The construction team includes Maine-based Cianbro, Mass.-based Anbaric Holding LLC of Massachusetts and Powerbridge of Connecticut.

Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Emera is leading a similar proposal, to bring up to 1,100 megawatts of energy across Maine, in a project dubbed the “Northeast Energy Link”. Other proposals include the “Northern Pass” through New Hampshire, a proposal to run cables under Vermont’s Lake Champlain and a smaller Anbaric proposal to bring New York power into the New England power grid in northwestern Vermont, also under a portion of Lake Champlain.

Anbaric, experienced in laying underwater power lines between New Jersey and New York, says the use of submarine cables is the most efficient method of transporting energy in terms of siting and permitting. The “Green Line” proposal is set up to tap both wind energy from northern Maine and hydropower from Quebec, New Brunswick and Labrador.

Lower energy costs and more reliability

While there has been talk of proposals, these have now become more urgent after January’s spike in natural gas prices. The hikes significantly increased power costs for New England electric rate payers. This occurrence has highlighted the need for alternative power sources such as hydroelectricity and wind, as well as reliable sources of natural gas.

Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s energy chief in Maine, said something has to change because the region’s energy rates are sky-high and there are consequences of relying too heavily on fossil fuels.

Massachusetts and Connecticut are driving the push to bring clean hydropower from Canada to help the states meet their clean-energy goals.

The states have agreed to share the costs because they would benefit from the overall reduction of energy costs, although the details of how that would be done have yet to be verified.