Observers of the New England energy scene can be forgiven for asking “what were they thinking” when New England’s state energy planners backed building 25 cent/kilowatt-hour wind projects while opposing reliable, existing, low-cost generators like Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
They were thinking New England would have endless amounts of “fracked” natural gas; they were wrong. Contrary to “expert” predictions of just a few years ago, demand has outstripped deliverable supply causing prices to climb steadily and spike drastically when the weather is at its hottest and coldest.
They were thinking New England could always buy more Canadian hydro power; they were wrong. As with natural gas, there’s not enough transmission capacity. Efforts to build new power lines have yielded controversy, spending, but no new cross-border transmission.
And finally, they were thinking that closing a big, base load nuclear power plant or two would push New England utilities into the waiting arms of intermittent solar and wind power; they were wrong. You cannot replace base load power sources with intermittent ones, so electric utilities were instead forced into the waiting arms of high carbon fossil fuel.
In short, they thought their foresight and strongarm regulatory tactics would bend the region’s energy market to their will. The market is bent, but instead of the result they wanted, they got the worst case scenario: higher emissions and higher prices which damage New Englanders' quality of life and increase costs to businesses.
This op-ed column was written by George Coppenrath of Barnet, Vermont. He is a former Vermont Senator from the Caledonia Orange District. Within the Vermont Senate, Coppenrath served on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. His column has appeared in several newspapers in Vermont.
His column is also quoted extensively in today's excellent post at NEI Nuclear Notes: In a Pit in Nuclear-Free Vermont.