Six New England governors announced a cooperative initiative in January 2014 to expand the capacity of natural gas pipelines in the region, as well as to develop access to renewable power sources like electrical transmission lines. As a result, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island will collaborate on improving energy access.
An April 2014 report from ISO New England shares important findings on the region’s infrastructure needs. Paramount among them, energy resources today are declining in performance, and significant strain will be put on the region if it does not begin planning today to develop its natural gas resources. The New York Times recently reported on sources of energy in New England – natural gas powers more than half of New England’s electricity.
There are multiple factors influencing the need for the northeast to invest in greater access to natural gas:
Coal, oil and nuclear resources need to be replaced with new sources. While states have advance notice in the decline of the supply of these resources, it’s important to act quickly to improve supply of other resources, including natural gas. Each of the six New England states is already facing a decline, and Massachusetts faces the greatest losses.
Wholesale electric energy is responsive to stress on other resources, including pipeline and electrical systems. New Englanders experience particularly harsh winters resulting in periods of high demand for natural gas. For example, when New York City temperatures dropped to seven degrees in January 2014, natural gas prices spiked. Adding new natural gas pipelines will ensure pipelines don’t reach capacity and drive up prices.
Incentives can improve electric generator performance and reliability, but ultimately, they are not driving the natural gas pipeline investments needed to meet demand across multiple states. A regional effort, however, will help New England develop these resources together.
Finally, cooperation and the use of policy to improve natural gas access is needed. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports the region has had as many as 10 pipeline projects underway in 2014, and these will deliver an extra two billion cubic feet of gas. Even then, less than half of the capacity will be completed by winter 2018. Regional lawmakers are taking steps to expedite the process.
It’s likely that new natural gas pipelines will source natural gas from resources that are nearer, like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale field, the largest in the U.S., instead of from Texas.
There are those who are against the construction of a new pipeline, but ultimately a natural gas pipeline is going to ease the strain on power needs for an entire region with a huge population that will benefit from greater access to natural gas. The great news is that taking steps now to improve natural gas capacity can be effective in reducing strain. Collaborating to expand natural gas pipeline construction can make new resources available to the region as soon as Winter 2017.