Winter Exposes New England’s Natural Gas Dependency

An editorial in the Concord Monitor summarizes the energy problem in New Hampshire.

Winter’s cold weather exposed New England’s dependency on natural gas which resulted in skyrocketing natural gas prices and soaring utility bills. The cause of this problem is a shortage of pipeline capacity to supply the region for its growing hunger for natural gas.

Several remarkable things, none of them good, happened during the recent cold spell. The price of natural gas, the normally cheap bridge fuel that seemed destined to replace coal and oil until renewable fuels became affordable, increased 20-fold or more, hitting an all-time high in some markets.

The price spike caused the owners of the paper mill in Gorham to shut down much of its operation until prices fell. And, in a back to the future moment, the operators of New England’s regional energy grid shut down three quarters of the region’s plants fueled by natural gas and told Public Service of New Hampshire to fire up not just its aged coal and oil-fired power plants in Bow, Newington and Portsmouth, but also its turbine units in Bow, Grovetown and Tamworth. They are powered by expensive jet fuel and called upon only in emergencies. The result: more, not less pollution.

New England governors, facing an energy crisis, are calling for construction of new pipelines to fill the void. Building a new pipeline network is a good idea but it’s going to take time and run into community group opposition.

A better idea is to make sure utilities have a diverse energy supply including coal and nuclear power. Closing coal-fired power plants, such as the Brayton Point plant, will only exacerbate the growing energy crisis.