It may not be as easy as the three North American governments think to achieve a 50% continental clean energy target by 2025, if U.S. groups opposing cross-border transmission lines have anything to say about it.
That’s the conclusion that Globe and Mail columnist Konrad Yakabuski reaches this week in a review of the long-entrenched opposition to power lines in the northern United States.
“There may be some wonderful hydroelectric power that we’d like to get to the United States,” U.S. President Barack Obama said last week in Ottawa. “The question is: Are there enough transmission facilities for us to be able to buy at a competitive price?”
But while Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is promoting a state bill that would require 1,200 megawatts of new hydroelectricity purchases under long-term contract, the measure “is seen as anything but wonderful by its opponents,” Yakabuski writes. “They include the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), which calls the bill ‘heavy-handed on imported hydro and far too light on the cleanest energy sources such as offshore and onshore wind.’”
The CLF opposes the 1,100-MW Northern Pass transmission line from Quebec, arguing that it would destroy “iconic vistas that are essential to the long-term health of New Hampshire’s recreation and tourism sector.” And it’s one of several U.S. environmental groups that are unwilling to recognize hydropower as “renewable”, arguing that “the Hydro-Québec system has a larger carbon footprint than the wind and other renewable projects available to the states receiving the power.” It also points to the impacts of new hydro development on large expanses of vulnerable boreal forest.
Opposing the Massachusetts bill from another direction is the New England Power Generators Association, which “asserts that the Baker bill would ‘undermine a competitive electricity market’ by forcing utilities to buy Canadian hydropower at fixed rates under contracts lasting up to 20-years, rather than on the open market,” Yakabuski reports.
The columnist lists a handful of other cross-border power lines that stand a better chance of approval. But “whether any one of these transmission proposals sees the light of day will depend more on politics than economics,” Yakabuski notes. “As former prime minister Stephen Harper learned in the Keystone saga, when it comes to cross-border energy infrastructure, there’s no such thing as a no-brainer.”