17 March 2011

Pushback in New England on hydro lines

Environmental concerns are causing problems for a proposed electricity transmission line that could help carry Labrador electricity into the United States.

The Northern Pass project will carry electricity from Quebec into New Hampshire and on to the rest of New England.

Some local residents in New Hampshire are concerned that the proposed route will damage the state’s tourism industry. 

John Harrington is a retired newspaper publisher.  He told North Country Public Radio:

“What’s being threatened is the only thing we really have left, which is tourism. All for the convenience of people far to the south. And we’re going to wind up with this huge scar right down through the narrowest and most fragile part of New Hampshire.”

Then there’s the question of whether or not big hydro is actually green. Only Vermont currently accepts hydroelectricity from large dams as renewable and green and therefore eligible to count in state-mandated energy calculations.  Most New England states require that a percentage of electricity in the state come from renewable, green energy sources.  Both the American federal and some state governments also give cash incentives to renewable energy projects.

In some states, debate is already raging about the implications of renewable energy policies.  In last fall’s gubernatorial campaign, incumbent Deval Patrick’s Republican challenger included support for big hydro as part of his campaign platform. 

In Connecticut, Northeast utilities senior vice-president James Robb told a conference last November that without big hydro, “ it will be very challenging to meet those goals” of increasing the use of renewable energy sources to 25% of generation by 2025.  Robb said that there are projects but many are uneconomical.

Still, the big hydro projects don’t meet existing guidelines.

The main concern regarding hydro is that the flooding resulting from dams causes leaves and other foliage to decompose, emitting methane, one of the worst greenhouse gases. The Canadian officials [at the November conference]  argued that the water in their provinces is so cold that the leaves don’t decompose.

“I’m struggling here in New England with how New England is going to meet its renewable requirements. Without Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador, you will struggle to hit that,” said Ed Martin, president and CEO of Nalcor Energy, which is based in the hydro- and wind-rich Newfoundland & Labrador. “Hydro is part of the mix that has to happen if you are going to meet the goals in New England.”

- srbp -