Updated, 14th September 2015
I submitted a Letter to the Editor of The Westwood Press last week, one which was published in Friday’s paper edition. It did not/has not yet made it online. It was in response to an article by Brad Cole which appeared in their 4th September 2015 edition. The letter is reproduced below. In fairness, they also don’t have Brad Cole’s piece available online either.
Thinking on a larger scale
Ref: B. Cole, “Pipeline workers aim to clear air” Westwood Press, 4th September 2015, page A2
The spokespeople for the Access Northeast natural gas pipeline Project struggled to differentiate their proposal from the West Roxbury Lateral project in your article by Mr Brad Cole on the 4th of September. Increasing use of natural gas is a problem for all of us, whether in West Roxbury, Westwood, Dedham, Canton, and Walpole.
Access Northeast Energy claims that a billion additional cubic feet of natural gas will be delivered by the Access Northeast Project daily, saving, they claim, “consumers $1 billion annually”. It’s natural to ask “Save compared to what?” Presumably the comparison is intended to be natural gas electricity without the additional billion cubic feet. That assumes natural gas is the only way such power can or should be provided, and that how it has been provided is effective.
Statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (“EIA”) show that, in contrast to every other region of the USA, the Northeast is growing its dependence upon natural gas for heating fuel and for electrical power generation. [See also.] New England electricity rates have on average risen, partly because of capital investments by the suppliers of natural gas to utility companies, who pass these on to ratepayers, and partly because in the Northeast a temperature drop from 40°F to less than 20°F results in natural gas tripling in cost compared to what it would elsewhere. Any billion dollar savings Access Northeast Energy touts could be wiped out overnight by weather, but that’s entirely because the Northeast continues to choose natural gas.
If Massachusetts wants to save money for energy, it should aggressively develop other sources, and their large scale storage. Wind and solar are only excluded as primary contenders to natural gas because energy storage at residential, commercial, and large scales is not presently permitted by Massachusetts regulation, for anything other than emergency backup. Some utility industry spokespeople claim that the reason why energy storage is not presently permitted, and why residential solar shuts down when the grid shuts down, is because of “safety concerns”.
In actuality what are being protected are the business model of electrical utilities and the balance sheets of their suppliers. The administration of Governor Baker could do more and do it faster, even if, by the DOER’s Energy Storage Initiative, they admit the possibility of putting utilities as we know them out of business.
UPDATE, NEWSFLASH: National Grid CEO says large power stations for baseload is ‘outdated’
Steve Halliday, the CEO of National Grid, has declared that “From a consumer’s point of view, the solar on the rooftop is going to be the baseload. Centralised power stations will be increasingly used to provide peak demand”. See the article at Energy Post.
Nevertheless certain trends that are currently taking place are unmistakable, says Holliday. “The world is clearly moving towards much more distributed electricity production and towards microgrids. The pace of that development is uncertain. That depends on political decisions, regulatory incentives, consumer preferences, technological developments. But the direction is clear.”
He notes that the speed at which the energy system is changing has taken many people by surprise, including himself. “The amount of solar being added to the system is incredible. 1500 MW in the first three months of this year. That’s the capacity of two power stations. I made a comment to the Energy Minister four years ago that there was little probability we would have 20,000 MW of solar in the UK. Now three of our scenarios have more than 20,000 MW of solar by 2035.”
What is the future of baseload generation in such a system? “That’s asking the wrong question”, says Holliday. “The idea of baseload power is already outdated. I think you should look at this the other way around. From a consumer’s point of view, baseload is what I am producing myself. The solar on my rooftop, my heat pump – that’s the baseload. Those are the electrons that are free at the margin. The point is: this is an industry that was based on meeting demand. An extraordinary amount of capital was tied up for an unusual set of circumstances: to ensure supply at any moment. This is now turned on its head. The future will be much more driven by availability of supply: by demand side response and management which will enable the market to balance price of supply and of demand. It’s how we balance these things that will determine the future shape of our business.”