There is a continuing debate over the new transmission line running through Maine that will bring electricity into New England from Hydro Quebec. The sides are clearly drawn, but the arguments are often muddled by details.

As we undergo an inevitable transition from fossil fuel-based energy to reduced-carbon energy sources, we need to consider two important aspects: availability and risk.

First, we can never have too much electric power, and we face the prospect of increasing demand in the future. Higher power demands will come from electric cars and electric home heating as well as normal growth in demand for power.

Second, daytime solar power and weather-dependent wind power cannot cover 24/7 electric power needs adequately. The problems with wind and solar can be solved by diversifying power sources and upgrading our infrastructure to accommodate many small power generators and to provide electricity storage devices.

The solar panels and windmills will pose an additional risk, because they are necessarily exposed to the weather. A hurricane could devastate solar farms, calling for contingency planning, for example.

The switch to electric power is inevitable, but the transition will have problems that we know about today and others that will surprise us in the future. If we want to improve the chances of success in this transition, then building the new power line from Hydro Quebec is an investment we need to make.

Peter Konieczko

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