WITH ENTERGY’S recent decision to close the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, New England has an opportunity to increase the supply of clean energy to the region. The Pilgrim closure is part of an array of market and environmental pressures that are shutting down the oil, coal, and nuclear plants that have sustained the region for years.
Left to the market, this zero-carbon resource will be replaced by a natural gas-fired power plant – a big step backward in the state and region’s hopes to reduce carbon emissions. Fortunately, the Baker administration has introduced an energy bill that would allow Massachusetts to participate in a big regional effort to build clean energy infrastructure that will efficiently bring substantial wind and hydro resources to consumers at reasonable prices.
The news of Pilgrim’s closure can be the shot heard round the region. It can serve as a kick-start to the modernization of our electric grid, from one that delivers fossil fuel to one that delivers scalable amounts of clean and renewable energy.
Large-scale wind and hydro resources that can replace Pilgrim’s power (and that of other retiring power plants) are available to New Englanders, but they’re far from urban areas. The electric grid we now use was built for dirty power.
The Pilgrim closing makes it even more urgent to rebuild the grid for clean energy. Adding clean energy transmission capacity makes sense. New England states place a premium on certain types of renewable energy, qualifying them for “Renewable Energy Credits,” or REC. While the standards that define these REC-eligible sources vary, wind energy is the lowest cost resource that qualifies in all the states.
For the most part, large-scale hydro does not qualify for those credits in the region’s energy market. Nevertheless, governors and legislators generally support “more hydro” as part of a zero-carbon energy package.
There are ample wind resources in northern Maine and in northeastern New York. On the hydro side, there is supply available both from Quebec and from the Maritimes. If we built transmission only for wind, the line would be empty whenever the wind doesn’t blow. That’s not efficient. If the region built an all-hydro transmission line it would still need to build separate large-scale transmission lines to satisfy its need for REC-eligible wind energy.
So transmission lines that pair hydro and wind together would allow these complementary resources to work together: When the wind blows, New England can get REC-eligible energy, and when it doesn’t, hydro from Quebec and the Martimes would have the opportunity to fill the line. Ideally, the wind and hydro for these projects would be incremental: The idea is not to divert existing clean power from one state to another but to provide an outlet for “bottled up” clean power. When incremental wind and incremental hydro work together, Quebec and the New England states are both winners. They get a “two for one:” REC-eligible wind, carbon-free hydro, both affordable. Together, wind and hydro are a formidable combination.
Given New England’s need to diversify its fuel supply, and given the difficulty of siting and paying for transmission, the answer is clear: New England states need to bring wind and hydro, together, into the region via the most efficient, permittable, resilient, and buildable transmission projects. The Pilgrim nuclear plant retires in three years; that sounds like a long time, but in “energy years” it’s the blink of an eye. We should act now.
Ed Krapels iz CEO of Anbaric, an electricity transmission development firm. Stan Blazewicz is vice president of business development at National Grid.