The plan by New England governors to finance new natural gas pipelines and electrical transmissions lines with charges on energy bills has been thrown into uncertainty.
Lawmakers in Massachusetts, where a proposal to build a natural gas pipeline along the state’s northern tier has spurred protests, last month refused to pass a bill pushed by Gov. Deval L. Patrick to jump-start imports of Canadian hydropower.
Although technically unconnected to gas pipelines, Canadian hydropower is a key part of a joint energy strategy being pursued by the six New England governors to expand and diversify the region’s energy sources. R.I. Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee in particular has made hydropower the cornerstone of his energy policy.
Over the past several years, the New England states have passed bills clearing the way for hydropower imports, including Rhode Island’s “Affordable Clean Energy Security Act” enacted earlier this summer.
As the most populous state in the region, Massachusetts’ absence blows a hole in the plan, agreed to by the governors in December through the New England States Committee on Electricity, to make bulk, multistate hydropower purchases.
As the transmission lines to bring large-scale hydropower into New England currently do not exist, creating the marketplace for bulk energy purchases is seen as the first step to building them. There are now as many as six high-voltage transmission-line proposals, including not only connections to Canadian hydro but resources in Maine – currently in planning, according to Janet Gail Besser, vice president of policy and government affairs at the New England Clean Energy Council.
According to NESCOE, the governors intend to finance new transmission lines by charging a tariff, administered by regional power-grid operator ISO New England, on electricity bills. The idea is that while the charges will cost ratepayers upfront, the additional supply of power entering the system will drive costs down in the long term.