Connecticut needs natural gas infrastructure upgrades

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Connecticut needs more supplies of all kinds of affordable, reliable energy — and that means sensible, long overdue expansion of our natural gas supply infrastructure as well as investments in increased renewables as they make economic and operational sense for our power grid.

Recently CT Viewpoints featured a column by State Rep. Chris Rosario challenging the need for natural gas supply upgrades, based largely on a new report by Synapse Energy Economics.

This report attempts to rebut this winter’s warnings from our regional power grid managers, Independent System Operator New England, that Connecticut and New England face an 82 percent risk of forced, rolling wintertime blackouts within the next half-dozen years. That’s largely because of the unrelenting opposition to sensible, needed upgrades of the gas supply infrastructure that delivers the fuel that now produces more than 50 percent of all our electricity.

What you need to know about the Synapse report: It was bought and paid for by a group of absolutist opponents to any and all fossil fuel use. The report is based on making all the rosiest assumptions possible about future growth of renewable energy in Connecticut and New England–even though:

  • Massachusetts’ offshore wind and Canadian hydro procurements are both months behind schedule
  • New Hampshire has rejected Northern Pass
  • Opposition is mounting to a Canadian hydropower line coming through Maine
  • And in just a year from now, New England will lose one of our biggest sources of non-GHG-emitting power, the 680-megawatt Pilgrim Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Here in Connecticut, demand for clean-burning natural gas continues to grow rapidly. Just since 2014, more than 51,000 Connecticut homeowners and businesses have converted to using natural gas for heating, cooking, and household use.

Connecticut regulators in 2013 approved plans to have more than 280,000 end users convert to or add natural gas by 2023. Utilities such as Avangrid and Eversource have been steadily expanding service, bringing natural gas to Bolton, Bozrah, Coventry, Deep River, Essex, Franklin, Hampton, and Wilton over the last three years. Eversource is working this spring and summer on a major expansion of service in Darien and New Canaan that’s been warmly welcomed by homeowners and businesses throughout both towns.

Later this year, the natural-gas-powered CPV Towantic Energy Center will go into service at the Woodruff Hill Industrial Park in Oxford. This 785-megawatt facility can generate enough power to serve 800,000 Connecticut homes, replacing higher-emitting power plants. Producing electricity from natural gas instead of coal cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent, and 30 percent compared to oil. So CPV Towantic will bring our state a giant step closer to our emissions goals–but only if it has adequate access to year-round fuel.

The Oxford power plant and the large, ongoing expansions in natural gas utility service throughout Connecticut are two major reasons we need more access to reliable, affordable natural gas. Simply put, when demand goes up, you need more supply.

Connecticut sits just 200 miles east of some of the world’s most abundant supplies of this fuel, from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, and improving our access to this supply would help save Connecticut ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars and improve our state’s business climate and ability to generate jobs.

When it comes to the Synapse report that Rep. Rosario relies on for his column, it’s worth remembering the track record of opposition to all energy infrastructure development in New England, not just natural gas infrastructure but wind, solar, underground and above-ground electric transmission lines. ISO New England has to be rightly skeptical about how quickly that infrastructure can actually be delivered – and has concluded that in 19 out of 23 likely scenarios, Connecticut and New England face forced, rolling wintertime blackouts without expanded natural gas infrastructure.

Synapse and its funders can get away with making rosy assumptions. The ISO has to keep the lights on all winter. We trust the analysis of the people who have to keep the lights on. So we urge Connecticut to support the sensible, overdue upgrades of our natural gas infrastructure we need to serve growing demand for this vital fuel, deliver Connecticut ratepayers millions in savings – and stave off the threat of forced, rolling wintertime blackouts.

Steven Guveyan is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Petroleum Council.


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