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New England States Wrangle Over Regional Purchase of Renewable Energy
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April 01, 2013

New England States Wrangle Over Regional Purchase of Renewable Energy

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

As Oscar Wilde said, “It is always with the best of intentions that the worst work is done.” And that has been the case with the resolution passed unanimously last July 30 at the New England Governor’s Conference in Burlington, Vermont—where the leaders of six Northeast states agreed to advance the process toward a coordinated regional procurement of renewable energy, with an emphasis on solar and wind power.

The initiative was introduced by Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and received with great enthusiasm by the other members of the group—including Daniel P. Malloy (Connecticut), Paul R. LePage (Maine), John Lynch (New Hampshire), Lincoln D. Chafee (Rhode Island) and Peter Shumlin (Vermont).

According to Patrick, “Taking advantage of economies of scale and market power, a competitive, coordinated regional procurement of renewable energy [would] help New England develop its vast, homegrown, renewable energy resource more cost-effectively, enhance energy supply diversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate economic development.”

The resolution mandated The New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) to develop and implement a work plan on behalf of the New England Governors that would result in the release of a request for proposals (RFP) for renewable energy in 2013. In turn, NESCOE convened a procurement team of top energy officials and other representatives from each state to finalize the details of the competitive, coordinated, regional procurement over the course of the next year.

However, speaking to the Associated Press (News - Alert) this week, of Christopher Recchia, commissioner of Vermont's Public Service Department, bluntly assessed, "I don't think we know how to do it."

In fact, according to recent reports, some of the states are at such loggerheads that they are pulling out of the project.  New Hampshire is not participating, and Maine and Vermont disagree with Connecticut over whether hydropower and biomass count as renewable energy.

According to AP, Vermont environmental officials believe biomass — energy from living or recently living materials — is a form of renewable energy. But Dan Esty, Connecticut's environmental commissioner, has countered that biomass is "not cutting edge." And Connecticut legislation being considered would require biomass and landfill-gas plants to improve their environmental performance to be part of the state's portfolio of renewable power.

What’s more, while Connecticut believes that hydropower qualifies, Massachusetts officials do not consider such projects eligible for the state’s portfolio of renewable energy because it's a "mature technology," compared with newer alternative energy such as wind and power, said Steven Clarke, assistant secretary for energy in Massachusetts.

The notoriously “independent” bloc of states—which were among the original colonies—will eventually come together and agree, Marion Gold, Rhode Island's energy commissioner, told AP. "We're working through all the different challenges to work collaboratively," she said. "Each state has a slightly different way of going through the process."

This resolution is the culmination of years of rigorous analysis and policy development led by NESCOE on behalf of The New England Governors. In September of 2009, the New England Governors adopted the New England Governors’ Renewable Energy Blueprint, which included technical analysis conducted by ISO (Independent System Operator) New England (ISO-NE), and identified significant renewable energy resources in and around the region. It also included policy analysis that identified the potential for New England states to coordinate competitive renewable power procurement. According to a wind energy study conducted by ISO-NE in 2010, offshore and onshore wind energy alone could provide more than 12,000 MW of electricity—enough electricity to supply 24 percent of the region’s electricity demand. 

Edited by Ashley Caputo

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