HARTFORD, Conn. — The nation’s top energy official delivered a blunt message Monday to a Connecticut audience of energy executives, regulators, environmentalists and others who already know that fuel heating and cooling homes and businesses and running power plants in New England is among the costliest in the nation.
Ernest Moniz, U.S. secretary of energy, stopping in Providence, R.I., and Hartford in a months-long federal review of energy issues, said New England doesn’t share the good news developing in the field of energy with the rest of the country.
“Out there, in much of the country the talk is about the energy revolution, the abundance of energy that we have, the way that we are in fact drawing upon new resources … promoting renewables, at the same time reducing carbon emissions,” he said.
“But yet if we come here, it’s not a discussion of abundance. It’s a discussion of, in particular, infrastructure constraints,” he said.
Speaking to an audience of about 150 in Hartford, Moniz said that in New England, piping in natural gas and otherwise delivering heat or electricity is limited by a lack of delivery systems.
During the severe winter, natural gas prices soared to more than $120 per million British thermal units from about $5 in the summer. The spike was blamed on strong demand, a lack of pipeline systems, limited regional liquefied natural gas deliveries and inadequate storage.
Energy prices in New England often are “very volatile and much higher than other parts of the country,” Moniz said.
Moniz knows New England. A physicist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Moniz said even when fuel is available, it cannot be moved in emergencies, such as Superstorm Sandy in October and November 2012, because of power outages.
New England governors announced a plan in January to expand natural gas use. The governors of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont asked the region’s grid operator for technical help to seek proposals to build transmission equipment and public works to deliver enough electricity to serve 1.2 million to 3.6 million homes. The states also asked the system operator, ISO-New England, to devise a way to finance the project.
Gordon van Welie, ISO president, said Monday that because many non-gas-fired plants are to be retired beginning this year and public works improvements are scheduled to start years from now, New England’s power system will be in a “precarious position” for a few years.
Anthony Buxton, general counsel for the Industrial Energy Consumer Group, a trade association of industrial facilities, said he told Moniz in his visit to Providence that 2 billion cubic feet per day of more pipeline capacity into New England is needed to tame natural gas price spikes.
Connecticut director William Dornbos of Environment Northeast, an advocacy group, urged Moniz and state policymakers to seek ways to cut demand via greater energy efficiency and to avoid major capital projects such as interstate natural gas pipelines or electric transmission lines.