Letter to the Editor: An unethical energy battle

7 mins read

We tune in to ideas brought to us from afar every day. They come to us through the magic of television and the discombobulated mess that is social media. Businesses and political interests vying for our attention create them, friends and media outlets share them. This marketing strategy is so effective we often find we’ve followed it to our detriment before realizing there was a reasoned argument against it. I believe this to be the case where the effort to defeat the New England Clean Energy Connect is concerned.

It seems stopping the NECEC had the unintended consequence of raising electric costs. Only that’s not entirely true. The truth is Tom Saviello and the rest of those who led the effort to stop it told us they did so to protect the profits of Calpine, NextEra, Vistra and other electricity generators operating in New England. Yes, they told us they had other concerns but this was always a priority with them, which is why their efforts began by building on a claim Calpine made in an attempt to convince us the project wouldn’t curb carbon emissions.

Our electric costs have increased dramatically because this effort left in place the volatility that is introduced by the fossil fuels Calpine, NextEra, and Vistra rely on. Those who’ve followed this issue from the start know that volatility drove Massachusetts to add hydroelectricity and offshore wind to the grid, as much as the need for clean alternatives did. This was an attempt to reduce electric costs, emissions, and reliance on markets outside our control. Solar was not singled out because the industry grows too slowly to make a real dent in emissions.

It was not in the best interests of those who organized the fight against the NECEC to admit they defended electricity generators who use a dirty mix of fossil fuels and alternatives to generate electricity once they seized on Calpine’s argument suggesting Hydro-Quebec intended to do the same. That argument went something like this, ”Hydro-Quebec could force New York and Ontario to use fossil fuels to generate electricity if they’re not able to generate enough electricity from hydro to meet the demands of Massachusetts, New York, and Ontario.” There was nothing to the claim, as Hydro-Quebec could produce data showing they’d be able to meet these demands, but those receiving funds from Calpine, NextEra, and Vistra had no incentive to acknowledge it.

Those organizations that received funds from the trio, either directly or through a third party, were: Mainers for Local Power, No CMP Corridor, Say No to NECEC, and Stop the Corridor. To stop the NECEC they leaned heavily of NextEra’s reputation as a solar energy generator, and the $20 million they provided. Having failed to convince regulators they could develop enough electricity from alternative sources to reduce emissions and dependence on resources from afar they’d try to convince voters to stick with them by growing this pseudo grassroots movement, which touted the disadvantages of hydro and the advantages of solar.

Those who monitor emissions in New England tell us it will be some time before we’re back on track to meet emission reduction goals set in 2000. We stopped meeting the annual benchmarks necessary to do so in 2019, when the closure of the Pilgrim Nuclear and slow alternative energy development resulted in a 3% increase in emissions. Each year since then we’ve seen a similar increase. Regulators know we’ll have to invest in every clean alternative to turn this around, but the market argues otherwise. Those invested in solar argue they can grow us out of this hole, and are willing to poison the hydro well to ensure they’d have the opportunity to prove it.

None of the giants protected by this movement are actually local. Despite what was implied they fought for interests based out of Florida (NextEra) and Texas (Calpine and Vistra) who remove money from the local economy and redistribute it in those states and to fossil fuels and mining interests overseas. It isn’t possible to keep a large portion of their profits here because the majority of the resource they use to generate electricity come from away. This is true of their solar investments too, as the materials mined to manufacture the solar panels they rely on come from away.

Another organization that sought the demise of the NECEC was the New England Clean Energy Council. It is led by investors specializing in the kind of small scale alternative energy solutions that would win if the NECEC was nixed. In fact, one of its board members, Zaid Ashai, is the chair and CEO of Nexamp. That would be the company responsible for the solar array in Farmington and for others recently installed in Maine. They were not so much fighting for the survival of solar but for an opportunity to dominate the alternative energy market.

As an Earth Scientist I viewed the New England Clean Energy Connect as an opportunity to offset emissions increases brought on by the closure of nuclear power plants in New England and the slow introduction of other low emission alternatives to fossil fuels power generation. I studied the concerns raised by opponents and weighed them against the benefits that are supported by robust research. I say robust because I want you to understand that’s not what opponents of the NECEC had going for them. They steadfastly repeated claims that it would do damage, they did not form an argument that was supported by science.

Jamie Beaulieu
Farmington, Maine

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