STOWE — Gov. Peter Shumlin tapped the brakes on a fast moving initiative to build out new electrical transmission and natural gas pipeline infrastructure in order to bring much needed power into New England.
Speaking at the New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners’ annual conference on energy policy in Stowe on Monday, Shumlin said the proposed massive energy infrastructure build-out could leave states stranded with avoidable costs.
“I’m not sure that we really know with the evolutions of technology and the local, distributed generation of power that we are not going to be paying for huge stranded costs if we build tons and tons of delivery,” Shumlin told a gathering of energy regulators, investors and businesses.
The New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners is a nonprofit corporation, composed of utility regulators, designed to address energy challenges in the region. Vermont Public Service Board Chair James Volz is the president of the organization.
The event brings together key players in the energy industry to set the course for New England’s energy future. This year’s focus was how to balance an urgent need for electricity in the region with emerging technologies.
The region is considering importing Canadian hydropower and building new natural gas pipeline infrastructure to drive down electricity prices, fill in for looming supply shortages, and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, all six New England governors agreed to attract the necessary infrastructure investments by sharing the costs among all the region’s electricity ratepayers.
But Shumlin, the governor of a state considered to be a possible “energy corridor” for transmitting some of this power, said these multi-billion dollar projects may be obsolete in the coming decades.
“What we don’t know is what technology might do to the assumptions we make right now,” he said.
He said cellphones now have the same computing power as computers that were once the size of homes. Likewise, new technologies could soon lessen the need to transmit large amounts of power from faraway areas, he said.
“I would ask us to think broadly and creatively about how we get it right so that we have enough, so that no one is left behind, so that the price is right … but also so that we don’t end up 10 to 20 years down the road with lots of stranded costs,” he said.
Vermont would not likely purchase any of the additional power the region is seeking to import and is partly isolated from the price spikes that caused record high electricity prices for much of the region last winter.
But several generating stations, including Vermont Yankee, are set to retire in the next few years. This poses “serious reliability risk to the region,” according to ISO New England, the region’s grid operator. Massachusetts is considering legislation that would require utilities to purchase long-term contracts for renewable power in order to meet new carbon reduction goals.
Marcy Reed is president of National Grid in Massachusetts, one of the region’s largest electricity utilities serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The company supports an initiative.
“We really do have to act regionally whether it’s on clean energy resources from the north or gas from the west,” she said in an interview. “Everyone has a stake in this. Everyone has a dog in this fight.”