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As Everett power plant shutters, some worry LNG terminal will be next to go

New England still relies on the imported gas to keep power plants humming and to supplement existing pipelines in cold weather

LNG tanker Gaselys docked at the LNG terminal in Everett on the Mystic River upstream from the Tobin Bridge in 2014. The terminal’s fate could become the latest flashpoint in New England’s ongoing debate about shifting away from fossil fuels.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

When the clock strikes midnight just over a year from now, it will be lights out for the state’s largest power plant, the Mystic Generating Station in Everett.

It might not be the only major piece of New England’s energy infrastructure to go. Mystic’s demise means the Everett LNG terminal next door faces a precarious future. Both are owned by the same company, Constellation Energy. Mystic is also the liquefied natural gas terminal’s biggest customer by far. And both are currently running thanks to an electric ratepayer subsidy that ends on May 31, 2024.

Everett is now the longest-operating LNG import terminal in the country. Elsewhere, US ports have been exporting liquefied natural gas, not bringing it in. Everett was the only one to receive LNG shipments during the past winter as global demand — driven in part by Europe weaning itself off Russian gas — drew shippers to more lucrative markets. Everett’s shipments could soon end, too, if Constellation determines it’s not commercially viable.

The 52-year-old terminal has been considered a linchpin for the region’s gas distribution system, particularly on chilly days when the two main pipelines into New England get maxed out. Not only does Everett keep Mystic’s electric turbines going, it’s also a backup for the Algonquin and Tennessee pipelines and provides much of the LNG that utilities store at various tanks around the region.


The terminal’s fate could become the latest flashpoint in New England’s ongoing debate about shifting away from fossil fuels. Move too slowly, and we fall short of our aggressive goals to reduce carbon emissions. Move too quickly, and we risk ending up in the dark or feeling the chill.

Consider that natural gas heats roughly half of the homes in Massachusetts. Sure, policymakers would like electric heat pumps to replace our gas-fired furnaces. But those ultimately rely on gas, too: For now, at least, about half of our region’s electricity comes from natural gas-fired plants like Mystic.


The Everett LNG terminal facility pictured in 2005. The demise of the Mystic Generating Station in Everett means the Everett LNG terminal next door faces a precarious future.Wiggs, Jonathan Globe Staff

Should the LNG terminal follow Mystic into mothballs, or does it still have an important role? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expects to tackle this thorny topic when it treks to Portland, Maine, on June 20. One commissioner has said she hopes a potential solution could be presented at that meeting.

Good luck with that. There’s still apparently a considerable amount of work to be done.

Constellation hasn’t definitively said it will close Everett if it can’t land a deal to keep the terminal and its 55-person staff. The company said it’s having discussions with gas utilities for Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island to ensure Everett’s supplies remain available during periods of peak demand. Any rescue would most likely consist of long-term contracts between Constellation and at least one of the utilities. Or one could buy the terminal outright.

So what are the utilities thinking? Hard to know. They’re not talking. Eversource and National Grid declined to comment. And all PPL, which acquired National Grid’s operations in Rhode Island, would say is that it’s engaged in “important discussions” involving “long-term energy reliability” in the region; no mention of LNG.

Don’t expect ISO New England to come to the rescue this time. The region’s electric grid overseer took some flak for backing the current two-year subsidy for Mystic and the LNG terminal. The power plant was once deemed crucial for grid reliability. But power-line upgrades, a wave of rooftop solar panels, and a long-awaited offshore wind farm will have lessened the need by mid-2024.


ISO executives recently huddled to decide if the terminal would be necessary to keep the lights on after the plant next door retires. Their ruling: not necessary enough for another subsidy.

The grid operator, in a May 4 report, said the loss of those LNG supplies could be fully mitigated in a moderate winter by bigger oil inventories at the region’s power plants, plus LNG from Canada and a rarely used buoy system in Massachusetts Bay. In a severe winter, ISO determined the shortfall would be “mostly mitigated” — no guarantees — by the increased oil supplies. Toward that end, ISO is again seeking federal approval for a subsidy program to spur dual-fuel generator owners to stockpile oil. Not ideal from an environmental perspective. But there simply isn’t enough green energy yet.

When the clock strikes midnight just over a year from now, it will be lights out for the state’s largest power plant, the Mystic Generating Station in Everett, pictured here in 2020.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Vamsi Chadalavada, ISO’s chief operating officer, says by the time electric heat takes off within five years, new sources of offshore wind and hydropower from Quebec should pick up the slack. He gave one caveat: The grid could be precariously positioned if demand for electric heat and vehicle charging rises too quickly and Everett’s LNG isn’t available for the power plants, though he called this a “manageable risk.”

That’s electricity. What about gas used for heat? Energy consultant Richard Levitan says the risk of gas shortages, here at the end of two major pipelines, certainly goes up if Everett closes — in part because the Canadian port would be much further away when needed during and after cold snaps.


That New Brunswick terminal is not near New England’s big cities, and there’s no guarantee LNG shipper Excelerate will bring fuel here to its buoy system in Massachusetts Bay if bigger payouts can be found in Europe. And José Costa at the Northeast Gas Association says his group remains concerned about what losing Everett would mean for pipeline reliability, particularly now that it’s clear ISO won’t rope in electric ratepayers again to help pay for it.

Meanwhile, for many environmental groups, it’s time to move on from natural gas. Conservation Law Foundation clean energy director Greg Cunningham said his group had previously supported LNG as a limited piece of the region’s fuel puzzle. Not anymore. If Eversource or National Grid had deemed the terminal critical to maintaining gas supplies for their customers, Cunningham said, they probably would have lined up a long-term contract by now.

The Healey administration leans CLF’s way. A spokeswoman for the state’s energy and environmental affairs office said that although state officials want to understand all potential impacts from losing Everett, the administration believes new clean energy infrastructure is the best way to address the region’s winter reliability issues. US Senator Ed Markey echoed that belief: Fossil fuels are killing the planet, he said, so Everett’s potential retirement represents an opportunity to bring on more renewable energy and storage.


In a perfect world, yes. But the arrival of green power in New England has been anything but smooth.

While liquefied natural gas isn’t carbon-free by any stretch, it has long provided a backstop for our electricity and gas distribution systems. Maybe not for much longer.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.