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Energy Crunch May Be On Way
HARTFORD COURANT - November 10, 2005
By Paul Marks

New England could feel the pinch of energy shortages within the next five years unless it speeds development of power plants, natural gas pipelines and electric transmission lines to ensure a reliable regional energy supply, says a report issued Wednesday by the New England Energy Alliance.

The recently formed coalition of energy producers, pipeline companies and business groups said there is "no silver bullet" available to solve energy supply problems. Instead, the existing system of nuclear, fossil-fuel and hydroelectric power plants must continue to expand while new technologies, such as wind power, are brought on line.

"Our assessment of the region's resources indicates that we are at a critical point today," said Susan Tierney, a former U.S. Department of Energy policy official who prepared the report for the energy alliance.

"Energy shortages could be acute soon - by 2010 at the latest," she said. With energy projects taking years to permit and build, she said, "it means that policy-makers need to act aggressively now to avoid problems in the future."

Spokesmen for Connecticut Light & Power and Yankee Gas, the distribution companies of Northeast Utilities Co., welcomed the report.

"Their findings are not unexpected. In fact, they reinforce what CL&P has been saying for years, especially with regard to electricity," said Mitch Gross, the power company spokesman. "Upgrade the infrastructure, and get the power to where it is needed."

This is especially vital to densely populated southwestern Connecticut, Gross said. He noted that CL&P is building a new 21-mile power transmission line between Bethel and Norwalk. Earlier this year, he added, the company won approval to build a similar 69-mile line between Middletown and Norwalk, starting in 2007.

"On the distribution side, we've been in the midst of a multiyear upgrade throughout Connecticut," Gross said, "although we have a long way to go."

At Yankee Gas, spokeswoman Sandy St. Pierre said the company has been pushing to expand its system for the past four years. And progress can take years. Earlier this year, construction began on a liquefied natural gas storage and production facility in Waterbury that initially was proposed in 2001, she said.

"We knew back then the demand for natural gas was growing," St. Pierre said.

Within as soon as two years, the coalition report said, demand for both electric power and natural gas may exceed available supplies and delivery capacity. In recent years, New England has relied more and more on natural gas for electric power generation - about 40 percent now, up about 10 percentage points since 2001.

The urgent need for more gas supply argues for the development of projects such as Broadwater Energy's controversial proposal for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound, said Carl Gustin, president of the alliance.

"There is a sense of urgency about future energy supplies," Gustin said, and regulatory delays and citizen opposition to certain projects can have the effect of "stifling or chilling investment in the region."

Joel Gordes, a West Hartford energy consultant and former state legislator, said the report is somewhat self-serving because it argues for the kind of expansion that power companies and pipeline companies long have sought.

"I'd say that they're pushing the same old fossil-fuel and nuclear [generation] agenda as in the past, and solar and conservation are getting the short shrift," he said.

Gordes said that two years ago the General Assembly cut state funding of its Connecticut Energy Efficiency fund as a deficit-reduction measure. In 2004, he said, a study done for the Energy Conservation Management Board, which Gordes serves on, concluded that broader use of conservation measures and better management peak power demand "could hold load growth to zero."

Connecticut already has built close to $1 billion in new electric transmission lines in recent years, Gordes said. He opposed that, saying a better solution would have been "distributed generation" - the construction of small power generation stations close to the homes and businesses using that electricity.

Relying on LNG from foreign suppliers to supplement gas from North America carries particular risks, Gordes said. The No. 1 and No. 2 LNG producers, Trinidad and Tobago and Algeria, suffer from political instability and would be vulnerable to an Islamist coup, he said. "Do we want to rely on that for our gas supply?" he said.