On January 11, 2015 10:58 pm
BOSTON – Massachusetts will be hard-pressed to meet its future energy needs without expanding natural gas pipeline capacity, according to a long-awaited study released Thursday.
Because of gas pipeline constraints, the state is likely to see spiking winter electricity prices through 2019, according to the “Massachusetts Low Gas Demand Analysis” (pdf) prepared by Synapse Energy Economics of Cambridge for the Department of Energy Resources under former Gov. Deval Patrick.
Between 2020 and 2030, even assuming the introduction of 2,400 megawatts of Canadian hydropower and the deployment of “all technologically and economically feasible” alternative energy resources, a natural gas capacity shortfall will be present during periods of peak demand, the report concludes.
Patrick ordered the DOER to conduct the study last summer after meeting with a group of environmentalists fighting a plan by energy giant Kinder Morgan to construct a new, high-capacity natural gas pipeline across parts of the state. The Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project has drawn widespread opposition from climate activists, conservationists and potentially affected property owners.
The stated purpose of the Synapse study was to examine “a range of solutions to meet the state’s short- and long-term energy needs, taking into account greenhouse gas reductions, economic costs and benefits, and system reliability.”
The study only looked at Massachusetts, not the New England region, and did not consider the environmental impacts of gas extraction or of siting a pipeline. Neither did it look at the cost of meeting the state’s energy needs without more pipeline capacity.
The report evaluated eight different potential energy scenarios, including a “low demand” case involving the Canadian hydropower and renewables, and asked if any more natural gas pipeline capacity is needed to meet the state’s future energy needs extending into 2030.
Synapse determined that Massachusetts will be short about 600-800 million cubic feet of natural gas on a hypothetical cold winter day by 2020, and up to 900 million cubic feet short by 2030.
To put that number in perspective, the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan would have the capacity to deliver 2.2 billion cubic feet per day to New England markets and beyond. The proposed pipeline would more than double the natural gas pipeline capacity in New England.
New England currently relies upon natural gas to generate more than half of its electricity, according to ISO New England, the independent entity which manages the region’s power grid.
Already the Synapse report is drawing fire from environmental groups who charge it is unfairly biased toward finding a solution that recommends more gas capacity.
Katy Eisman, Director of the Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network, said in an email Friday that the study was unfairly limited in its scope, and that Patrick himself reneged on a promise to undertake a “clean energy future study.”
“Governor Patrick sat across the conference table from me and said, ‘Yes, absolutely,'” when asked if the study would evaluate meeting the state’s energy needs without more gas pipeline capacity, said Eisman, who accused the former governor of failing to follow through on his commitment.
Jane Winn, director of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said Thursday it was “crazy” to propose making Massachusetts “more addicted to this volatily-priced, highly climate-changing fossil fuel,” considering that natural gas already accounts for half of the state’s electricity production.
The cost of natural gas in New England is about 10 times higher than that in the Mid-Atlantic, according to Forbes. The magazine also reports that the total wholesale cost of electricity in New England for the first quarter of 2014 was $5.3 billion, up 75% from the first quarter of 2013, according to ISO New England.
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