January 24

New England governors start push to cut cost of power

Their first-of-its-kind plan calls for projects to expand transmission lines and gas pipeline capacity in the region by 20% in three years.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

A new draft report prepared for the Maine PUC says, for instance, that if natural gas prices had been cut by 30 percent last year, overall energy prices in Maine would have fallen by nearly $50 million.

Specifically, the governors want firm pipeline capacity that’s one billion cubic feet per day above last year’s levels, or 600 million cubic feet a day more than what’s already proposed in expansion projects. That capacity should be online by the winter of 2017-18, the governors say.

New England now burns 4.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day. For comparison, that’s equal to about 31 million gallons of heating oil.

SOME WANT EVEN MORE GAS CAPACITY

Although no specific transmission line project is identified in the plan, Welch said three likely options exist: further expansion of Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market project, which connects New York with a hub north of Boston; a new line across northern Massachusetts being considered by Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc.; and an expansion of the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System through western Maine from Quebec.

Boosting the region’s gas capacity by 20 percent would help reduce costs, said Tony Buxton, a lawyer who represents the Augusta-based Industrial Energy Consumer Group, but it wouldn’t erase the price differential between the region and its competitors.

That differential, he said, cost Maine $360 million last year. His group, made up of paper mills and factories, is pushing for 2 billion cubic feet.

But Greg Cunningham, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said even the governors’ proposal is excessive because it would increase the emissions associated with climate change. A better solution is increased efficiency, more renewable power, and market reforms that would lower gas prices to power plants, he said.

Cunningham’s group has filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts to block a new gas-fired plant from being built in Salem, even though it would replace a dirty-burning coal plant. Cunningham said his group might consider legal action against the governors’ plan, depending on the details.

But Woodcock said the plan represents political and practical compromises between developing more renewable power and accommodating the demand for natural gas already set in motion.

“It was extremely challenging to get to this point,” Woodcock said. “New England has made a decision that we are going to be using gas for a very long time. This is managing that decision.”

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

tturkel@pressherald.com

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