Our energy future includes Bow

On Jan. 5, ISO-New England, the organization that manages the New England electric grid, announced that the region’s operating capacity for several weeks this coming May and June may be short by 1,740 megawatts, and that additional negative numbers are being estimated for the months of July and August. Simply put, this coming summer we could face a shortage of electricity.

This is not a new problem. In 2007, in response to the anticipated shortfall of electricity, I sponsored legislation to allow our regulated utilities to begin building new renewable power plants. Unfortunately, this bill was killed, and the development of new electric generation in our state has remained slow.

Yet in New Hampshire, a small group of environmental interests continues to push to stop the installation of pollution controls for the Merrimack Station power plant in the town of Bow, creating a path for the shutdown of this critical coal-fired power plant by leaving it out of compliance with existing environmental laws.

Merrimack Station remains one of our state’s most cost-effective and reliable power plants. Unlike wind or natural gas, which only produce electricity when wind conditions are right or when natural gas prices are down, Merrimack Station produces electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Utilizing coal, this facility produces enough power to supply more than 190,000 New Hampshire households.

Just as important, at a time when our economy is struggling, this power plant reduces the cost of electricity for hundreds of thousands of Public Service of New Hampshire customers like me. Even with the cost of installing a scrubber included, Merrimack Station is expected to produce electricity for consumers at below-market prices. In fact, if the power generated by the facility had to be purchased on the open market, it would cost PSNH electric customers an additional $30 million per year.

While we all want a future that includes new renewable energy sources, such as wood, wind and solar, to clean our environment and reduce our dependency on foreign oil, we continue to face many challenges. Capital for many of these projects has been reduced or eliminated as a result of our deepening economic problems, and timelines for siting and permitting renewable energy projects can take up to seven years.

This should not be an excuse to stop the charge to create new renewable energy, but it should cause alarm for decision-makers considering policies that undermine the effort to clean up our existing power plants — or worse, shut them down. Given the region’s reliance on our existing power plants, like Merrimack Station, to meet consumers’ energy needs, investments like the scrubber project are necessary to ensure these plants are as clean as possible.

Shutting down our existing electric generation without a clear view of how that power will be replaced or what our energy future holds could be a decision we regret for decades to come.

Bob Letourneau is a Republican state senator who represents Derry, Hampstead and Windham. 

Categories: Opinion