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New England Clean Energy Connect

Hydro-Québec (HQ) has been exporting electricity to New England since the 1980s. This U.S. region of around 14 million, accounts for about half the company’s exports and pays some of the highest electricity rates in the United States. At present, HQ exports some 17 terawatt-hours  (TWh) of electricity to New England, about 14% of the region’s annual power consumption.

At present, HQ makes use of two cross-border interconnectors to supply power to New England customers. Due to the profitability of the New England market, it is not surprising that this Canadian company is seeking to increase its export power sales. Especially given the forecast by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that demand for power could grow in the region by 67 percent by 2050, due to widespread electrification of transport.

New England Clean Energy Connect

There are now plans for a 3rd cross-border HVDC interconnector called New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), and is designed to provide additional power transmission capacity between Quebec and the New England region. This project is designed to have a transmission capacity of 1200 MW. This 233km-long transmission line, which will serve 1.2 million households, will cost in the region of $950m but estimates suggest it will also save customers $190m a year.

HQ expects construction to begin during 2020, with the project completed and in service by 2022. The new transmission line right-of-way will have 150 feet of cleared width, with an additional 150 feet that remains undeveloped. In addition, around 70% of the planned route will run along existing power lines in order to minimise disruption to natural environments.

Also, much care in the project route design has been made to protect virgin forest, as much of the planned route makes use of lumber roads, harvested forests and existing routes of power lines.

NECEC is designed to provide extra cross border transmission capacity from HQ many hydro plants to customers in New England including major urban cities including Boston, Hartford and Springfield. Also, it would reduce the need for New England to rely on gas power plants to meet existing and future power needs. For example, it would help the state of Maine in achieving its goal of 80 percent below the 1990 emissions level by 2050. The electricity from renewable energy sources will also increase to 100 percent by 2050.

Energy trading

Already, New England meets at least 15% of its power needs from Canadian power derived from existing Canadian hydro-power plants, supplied by HQ in Quebec. There are several aims behind this project; the first is to sell increased amounts of power from Quebec to American customers in New England and New York State.

The second is for Quebec to act as a battery for both New England renewable energy projects. Hydro Quebec envisages that American renewables from onshore solar and offshore wind could export surplus power to Canada during sunny or windy days, thus enabling Canadian Hydro plant reservoirs time to fill up. In addition, when there is insufficient wind and sun in New England, Hydro-Québec could export power to New England customers.

Already, such cross-border trading is commonplace in many other parts of the world. For instance, there is a cross-border bidirectional sub-sea interconnector that links wind rich Denmark with hydro rich Norway. This means that surplus wind power is exported to Norway, which allows Norwegian hydro-power plants reservoirs to refill. In addition, when Denmark needs additional power, it can top up supplies by importing Norwegian power across the sub-sea interconnector that links the two countries power networks.

Traditionally, New England power generators have seen Hydro-Quebec as a competitor not only to fossil fuel plants but also American renewables operators.

Power utility Central Main Power a local partner in the project suggests that if the power grids of both New England and Québec were integrated into one operational unit, then it would be possible to cut by nearly ¼  the cost of achieving zero emission power for customers in New England.

Hydro-Quebec

Already, the Canadian power utility Hydro-Quebec has a fleet of 63 hydroelectric power stations scattered across the provinces of Québec and Labrador. In the 2018 fiscal year, Hydro Quebec generated some Canadian dollars 14.37 billion in revenue. Hydro Quebec is a public utility owned by the Government of Quebec and is based in Montreal. On markets outside Québec, net export volume reached 33.7 TWh, one of the strongest performances in this area in Hydro-Québec’s history. Around 53% of its exports are sent to customers in New England, 23% to the state of New York, and the rest mostly to the Canadian province of Ontario.

State of progress.

This project has been opposed by various environmental groups, energy companies and communities. Opposition groups are making different arguments against the project. Power generators complain that it puts subsidised foreign energy ahead of local projects, while environmentalists are concerned about potential forest destruction and carbon emission risks.

For example, there is the New England Power Generators Association which comprises over 90% by local gas power generator operators and the rest by local small Hydro plants, is concerned that the cheap Canadian renewable electricity will push them out of this very profitable market.

Then there are various environmentalists groups who believe that at some future point in time Hydro-Quebec will need to top up its power supplies with fossil fuels. In fact, Hydro-Quebec has significant additional hydroelectric resources to hand, thanks to its in enormous Northern reservoir storage system, its recent 5000 MW build-out of new capacity, including construction of a 245 MW hydro-power plant facility, and continuous investment to increase the updating and efficiency of existing assets throughout its fleet. Because of this, it has much surplus capacity to meet growing New England  market needs.

At present, the developers expect that during this year all the various permitting processes for planning will be completed, so as to enable construction to begin.

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