By Jack Coleman
BOSTON - At a forum of energy industry officials yesterday at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Cape Wind President Jim Gordon told of reading a business story in that day's Boston Globe.
The story said New England could face rolling blackouts by 2008 of the type that plagued California during its energy crisis in 2001, due to surging demand and "no new power supplies on the horizon," according to Gordon van Welie, chief executive of Independent System Operator New England.
The Holyoke organization, also known as ISO New England, runs the regional electric grid and wholesale electric markets.
"I can understand Gordon saying that because if you stood on the nearest beach and looked out over the horizon, these are so small ..." Gordon said, referring to the height of his proposed wind turbines in Nantucket Sound as seen from the shores of Cape Cod by holding his thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart. The rest of Gordon's sentence was drowned out by laughter and applause.
Living on borrowed time
The levity of Gordon's opening remarks aside, yesterday's "New England Energy Forum: A Conversation about Meeting New England's Electricity System Challenges," was a sobering experience. Based on comments from more than a dozen leaders in the industry and non-profit groups, New Englanders may well be living on borrowed time in producing more electricity than needed.
This is one of the reasons the Cape Wind project is needed, Gordon said. "And by no means is any particular technology a silver bullet or a panacea."
Gordon was one of five speakers on a "stakeholder panel," along with Daniel Sosland, executive director of Environment Northeast research and advocacy group; Conservation Law Foundation Philip Warburg; Raytheon's principal energy engineer David Chamberlain; and Tony Dutzik, senior policy analyst with the state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs).
Gordon cited a letter about the Cape Wind project written in March from David Garman, an undersecretary in the Department of Energy, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead permitting agency for Cape Wind's application to build the nation's first offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
Now that's a lot of energy
Garman had written that "with over 900 gigawatts of potential wind power located in offshore areas adjacent to major demand load centers, we must work together to tap this resource in a responsible manner."
"Wind power provide 20 percent of electricity in Denmark and employs 21,000 people in a country of five million people. The experience of extending wind power offshore "has been very, very good in Europe. We have the same type of potential here in New England. "Right now, in the United States, we're a first mover in looking to tap these wind resources." - Jim Gordon
"Wind power provide 20 percent of electricity in Denmark and employs 21,000 people in a country of five million people. The experience of extending wind power offshore "has been very, very good in Europe. We have the same type of potential here in New England. "Right now, in the United States, we're a first mover in looking to tap these wind resources."
- Jim GordonOf that 900 gigawatts, Gordon said, "New England has approximately 42 gigawatts of offshore energy resources."
"Now that's a lot of energy," Gordon said.
A gigawatt is equal to one billion watts, or 1,000 megawatts (MW), capable of providing electricity to about one million homes. With its 130 turbines, the Cape Wind project would supply 468 megawatts at peak production and an average of 170 megawatts annually.
"Of that 900 gigawatts, the coastal waters of New England could supply about 42 gigawatts, Gordon said.
"Now that's a lot of energy. That's an enormous amount of energy," Gordon said. "And we see Cape Wind as a gateway to begin to begin to be able to harness these offshore wind resources."
Gordon's proposal to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has met with fierce resistance from opponents who claim it will hurt birds, fish and other wildlife, tourism, property values of waterfront homes and the scenic beauty of the Sound.
The US Army Corps of Engineers released a draft environmental impact report on the Cape Wind project in November showing minor envionmental impacts from the project. A final environmental impact report could be out later this year. The Corps is one of 17 federal, state, regional and local agencies reviewing the project.
New England's growing demand
As an example of how demand for electricity keeps growing, Monday's story in the Boston Globe also pointed out that on Monday, an unseasonably muggy day, the region came within only two percent of exceeding the record power demand set in August 2002.
Industry officials said the energy landscape in New England is characterized by growing demand, tough regulations and resistance to new power plants. In a mix like that, something has to give, and predictions of the form that will take ranged from growing energy costs, economic stagnation and uncertain delivery of electricity.
In an earlier panel discussion of senior officials in energy production and generation, moderator Gary Long, president of Public Service of New Hampshire, said that "when a competitive energy supplier says 'I won't build another power plant in New England under these rules,' what does that instruct us with respect to the future?" Long asked.
Under those conditions, the region's economy could suffer in the long run, said Nick Stavropoulos, president of KeySpan Energy Delivery.
"Our economic vitality in this region is dependent on our ability to expand our energy delivery infrastructure," Stavropoulos said. "It's not the other way around."
Working on energy efficiency
"Energy efficiency has been, and needs to continue to be, an important part of the solution for New England," he said. "But it's not a complete answer."
Earlier in the forum, former state Secretary of Environmental Affairs Susan Tierney described the National Commission on Energy Policy's report released in December, "Ending the Energy Stalemate: A Bipartisan Strategy to Meet America's Energy Challenges."
"We think efficiency is the first thing that has to happen," said Tierney, one of 16 commissioners who worked on the three-year, $10 million research effort.
Yesterday's forum was sponsored by the commission and The New England Council, a business association that promotes economic growth in the region.
"If we don't do something fairly soon, we are going to have a problem." - Gordon van Welie
"If we don't do something fairly soon, we are going to have a problem."
- Gordon van Welie
Other recommendations from the panel included increasing and diversifying global oil production, tax incentives for manufacturers and buyers of hybrid cars, expanding natural gas supplies and infrastructure, provide $10 billion over 10 years to develop new advanced nuclear power plants, double federal funding on energy research and development, extend the federal production tax credit to 2009 for wind and other "non-carbon energy resources and better protecting energy facilities from accidents and terrorism.
Natural gas use in New England has surged in recent years, Stavropoulos said, rising 70 percent from 1993 to 2003. This was mainly due to new natural gas-fire power plants, he said, and 42 percent of the region's consumption of natural gas is used to generate electricity.
Stavropoulos praised KeySpan's work to invest in infrastructure - "a $1 million a day" - to keep pace with demand.
Because of this, "in January last year, when we had the coldest day since Grover Cleveland was president, we were able to meet the demand of every natural gas customer that paid for capacity in the system."
A nagging problem in meeting the region's energy needs is that investors are often hesitant due to the long life-span of power plants, up to 50 years in some cases.
Michael Kansler, president of Entergy Nuclear Northeast which owns the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth and nine others, said he doubted that rising demand for electricity combined with reducing greenhouse emissions could be accomplished with continued use of nuclear power in the mix.
Options and answers
"The nuclear option has to be kept available," he said, along with greater efficiency and renewables.
Despite the challenges, "the good news is that (the regional grid) is working fairly well," said ISO New England President Gordon van Welie said.
In the massive power failure that paralyzed much of the Northeast in August 2003, van Welie said, most of New England was spared due to improvements to the grid in recent years.
Some 10,000 megawatts of new capacity were built into the system between 1994 and 2004, van Welie said. "The problem is that it was all natural gas (fueled)," he said.
As noted in that day's business story in the Boston Globe, the current excess capacity in New England will be gone within a few years. "If we don't do something fairly soon, we are going to have a problem," van Welie said.
The Cape Wind project can help offset this looming shortfall, Gordon said, by using a local energy resource that does not contrubute to greenhouse emissions and global warming.
Wind power provide 20 percent of electricity in Denmark and employs 21,000 people in a country of five million people, Gordon said. The experience of extending wind power offshore "has been very, very good in Europe," he said.
"We have the same type of potential here in New England," Gordon said. "Right now, in the United States, we're a first mover in looking to tap these wind resources."
But similar efforts are underway in New York and Georgia, he said, "there is a tendency for the industries to gravitate" to regions where efforts are first initiated.
Gordon also cited polling reported in the Cape Cod Times this week that showed local residents evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the Cape Wind project, with a large contingent still undecided.
"Those types of poll results, even on the Cape, would be the envy of other energy suppliers," he said.