PSNH President Eyes Energy Crunch
PORTSMOUTH — The new president of Public Service of New Hampshire said he sees a rocky few years ahead for New England — a time during which, at least for the short term, he expects the company's oil- and coal-fired plants to play a significant part.
William Quinlan also said that while "the need couldn't be clearer" for more electric infrastructure region wide, he is concerned that New England states are banking too much on natural gas as the solution.
Quinlan, who spoke Wednesday to the Portsmouth Herald editorial board, has a deep background in utilities.
Before coming to PSNH, he had a long history with Northeast Utilities, serving as an engineer, an attorney and in business management.
Most recently, he served as vice president of emergency preparedness for Northeast Utilities companies Connecticut Light and Power Co. and Yankee Gas.
Since arriving at PSNH last fall, he said he has spent most of his time traveling the state and talking with customers, who he said are key to the future of PSNH.
"We are in the customer service industry. Our role is to deliver energy to our customers as reliably as can be and to keep the costs as low as can be," he said.
With that in mind, "one of the things that has become clear to me is that, in New England, prices are higher than they should be." Natural gas from shale is "right on our doorsteps," he said, "but we don't have an ability to get it to customers."
Some 46 percent of New Englanders rely on natural gas for electricity, but existing pipelines are insufficient. The six states have proposed increasing pipeline capacity by 25 percent and also increasing transmission lines for "clean energy," including the Northern Pass project.
Quinlan's concern is that the region's dependency on natural gas could spike to as high as 60 or 70 percent if the pipeline project is undertaken. "But this notion of spreading the risk is not something the current market design is concerned about. It's all about the price."
This past winter, he said, PSNH's generating facilities were running flat out, including the rarely used Lost Nation jet combustion turbine in Groveton, at a cost of $900 a gallon.
"When you're running jet fuel to keep the lights on, the market is not working," he said.
Until and unless the proposed pipeline is built, he said he believes PSNH's plants could be needed during coming winter seasons.
He said the Northern Pass, a proposed 1,200-megawatt hydropower project in northern New Hampshire, would be the first new infrastructure project to go online in New England. If all goes as planned, the project could go online in 2017.
The joint project of Northeast Utilities, which owns PSNH and Hydro-Quebec, has been controversial, as residents have expressed concern that all the power is going to the New England grid and not to Granite Staters.
Quinlan said this is "something I've heard consistently." The company is exploring a power purchase agreement with Hydro-Quebec that would allow New Hampshire residents to benefit from the project, but said it was "premature" to discuss the matter in more detail now.
He said that as he looks to the future of PSNH, the only New England utility that generates as well as produces energy, he intends to keep ratepayers at the forefront of his mind.
"Ultimately, this focus on the customer has become critical to me," he said.