Electricity delivery could become problematic because of bottlenecks

Aug 29, 2001 02:00 AM

Eastern Canada successfully helped New England keep the air conditioners humming during this summer's heat wave. But the president of Hydro-Quebec and the president and CEO of Northeast Utilities warned governors and premiers from New England and eastern Canada that delivering electricity to consumers in the coming years could be problematic because of bottlenecks in the transmission system.
Michael G. Morris of NU likened the current structure to rush-hour traffic along Interstate 95. "That's what our transmission system looks like. It's congested," Morris told the leaders, who gathered at the Water's Edge Resort for their 26th annual conference. The officials arrived for the event, titled "Trade and globalisation for the 21st century."

Canada is the top supplier of energy to the US, outside of what is produced in this country. Last year, 14 % of the electricity produced by Hydro-Quebec, which uses mostly hydroelectric plants to generate power, was sold to neighbouring markets such as New England.
Hydro-Quebec President and CEO Andre Caille said more of that so-called clean power could be transmitted to New England in future years. However, there are problems with transmission in south-western Connecticut, the Boston area and New York City.
"Better transmission facilities, more bridges between regions, are now recognized as vital," said Caille, warning the New England governors that states need to come to terms with finding new sites for transmission lines. "We see transmission capacity as one of the last pieces of restructuring the electric industry."
Electric power was just one of several issues discussed during the daylong session, which included French interpreters for some of the Canadian delegates. Gov. John G. Rowland, who co-chaired the event, said the New England states and the eastern Canadian provinces have much to discuss, especially issues affecting energy consumption, economic development and the environment. He said there is not enough acknowledgement of the important bond between New England and Canada.

The group last met in Mystic in 1990. More than 600 people associated with the conference, including the officials, their staffs and security, attended the event. They've filled the Water's Edge Resort, as well as neighbouring hotels and inns, some staying as far east as the Mystic Marriott.
Much of the session concentrated on how to mesh economic development in a global market with environmental protection. The group passed two resolutions that called for a 10-year reduction in mercury emissions, as well as cuts in so-called greenhouse gas emissions. New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord credited the coalition of governors and premiers for leading the way in North America on the mercury issue in particular, despite criticism from environmentalists that the action taken was weak.
"This is very significant," Lord said. "The objectives we have set, they are very aggressive targets and they may be very difficult to achieve." One of the resolutions directs the governors and premiers to reduce mercury releases into the environment by 75 % on or before 2010. The leaders also agreed to advance mercury pollution prevention and education initiatives, as well as organize a symposium on the impacts of acid rain on human health.

But New England Zero Mercury Campaign, a coalition of New England environmental groups, claimed the action fell short of what is needed, and demanded more swift action to virtually eliminate man-made mercury by 2010. They organized a "belly brigade" of 20 advocates dressed as pregnant women to underscore the risk to foetuses and developing children posed by eating mercury-contaminated fish.
The brigade, however, was not allowed to protest on the grounds of the Water's Edge. Instead, they had to picket at the entrance to the luxury resort.
"We made some progress, but need some policies to come from this body," said Brooke Suter, from the environmental group Connecticut's Clean Water Action. Suter said she was disappointed with the resolution passed by the governors and premiers. She said the increasing levels of mercury are threatening many industries that depend on a healthy environment, including fishing, tourism and wildlife viewing.
Michael Bender, of the Mercury Policy Project in Vermont, said the leaders did not recognize that even if all mercury emissions were stopped, it would still take 15 years to actually eliminate the pollutant. Yet Rowland said governors are always working on ways to reduce mercury, calling the issue a great concern. He said the leaders would probably never be able to pass a timetable acceptable to the environmentalists.

There was little reaction to passage of a climate change action plan. The resolution calls for each province or state to develop a framework for reducing greenhouse gases, which are considered to contribute to global warming. Among specific recommendations, the group set a goal for themselves to reduce the gas emissions by 25 % by 2012 through use of improved fuel-efficient government vehicles that burn lower-carbon fuels.
Maine Gov. Angus King said the resolution was significant because the leaders collectively agreed that greenhouse gases are affecting the climate. Also, he praised the group for having the foresight to officially recognize that environmental issues such as acid rain and mercury pollution have an impact on the region's long-term economic competitiveness, as well as free and fair trade. "I think this act today will be looked back upon as one of the most important things we've done," he said.
The group did not take any action on the power transmission problem. However, the New England governors appeared to be evaluating a federal proposal that would merge the independent system operator that oversees the New England power grid with the mid-Atlantic states' system operator. The governors also discussed a proposal that would transmit power underwater from Canada to places such as Boston, eliminating the battles over siting lines on land.

The Canadian press appeared to be mostly concerned about an American tariff on Canadian lumber. This is a long-standing battle between the two countries, and the reporters raised the issue of whether Canada might cut off the power supply to New England in hopes of winning the battle on lumber.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, the new US Ambassador to Canada, downplayed the possibility of such a nasty trade war developing. "I don't think it will be good for the US economy and I don't think it will be good for the Canadian economy," Cellucci said. New England currently absorbs about 45 % of all exports from Atlantic Canada, according to one official at the conference.
Exports of energy products, including electricity, refined petroleum and natural gas, have doubled in the past five years -- leading the pack among Canadian goods sold to New England. On the other side of the trade equation, New England exported $ 9 bn in goods last year to Canada. The government leaders ended the day's events with a state dinner at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford.

Source: The Tribune
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