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Widespread Hydro-Québec outage fuels concern over future reliability in N.H.

Earlier this month, two of Hydro-Quebec’s transmission lines funneling power from James Bay to Quebec went out, causing about 188,000 customers in Canada to lose power during the outage’s peak. The outage meant that more than 2,000 megawatts of power bound from Canada to the New England grid didn’t show. And that drove grid operator ISO-New England to launch reactionary procedures to keep electricity flowing south of the border. 

As winter weather begins to overtake New England and residents start to see the effect of electric rate increases, many companies are looking to Canada and its vast hydropower resources as a potential part of a solution.

Northern Pass, a proposed transmission line that would cross through New Hampshire, plans to tap into Hydro-Quebec’s power sources. Another plan proposed in Vermont by TDI New England would run a transmission line carrying Canadian hydropower beneath Lake Champlain and underground to Ludlow, Vt.

But some, including Northern Pass critics, raise questions about the power’s reliability.

Earlier this month, two of Hydro-Quebec’s transmission lines funneling power from James Bay to Quebec went out, causing about 188,000 customers in Canada to lose power during the outage’s peak. The cause of the Dec. 4 outage was unclear, and the company is investigating, a spokesman said.

But the outage meant that more than 2,000 megawatts of power bound from Canada to the New England grid didn’t show. And that drove grid operator ISO-New England to launch reactionary procedures to keep electricity flowing south of the border. The lights... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

As winter weather begins to overtake New England and residents start to see the effect of electric rate increases, many companies are looking to Canada and its vast hydropower resources as a potential part of a solution.

Northern Pass, a proposed transmission line that would cross through New Hampshire, plans to tap into Hydro-Quebec’s power sources. Another plan proposed in Vermont by TDI New England would run a transmission line carrying Canadian hydropower beneath Lake Champlain and underground to Ludlow, Vt.

But some, including Northern Pass critics, raise questions about the power’s reliability.

Earlier this month, two of Hydro-Quebec’s transmission lines funneling power from James Bay to Quebec went out, causing about 188,000 customers in Canada to lose power during the outage’s peak. The cause of the Dec. 4 outage was unclear, and the company is investigating, a spokesman said.

But the outage meant that more than 2,000 megawatts of power bound from Canada to the New England grid didn’t show. And that drove grid operator ISO-New England to launch reactionary procedures to keep electricity flowing south of the border. The lights in New England didn’t go off, and many have said ISO’s response was a success.

But some say the event illustrates reliability issues with a power source beyond the state’s control that has a primary obligation to power its Canadian customers.

“It’s really about better understanding the product New England is buying even now and the risks of buying more,” Christophe Courchesne of the Conservation Law Foundation said in a statement. “Let’s not kid ourselves and ignore the limitations even as we consider potential benefits.”

Part of the issue, he said, is that Canada is a winter-peaking system, meaning that the highest demand for electricity is in the winter. About 70 percent of Quebec province heats with electricity. At times of high demand in winter, or during any disruption like the December outage, New England could potentially lose out on power.

“It’s becoming common for Hydro-Quebec problems to radiate south very quickly,” Courchesne said.

Hydro-Quebec counters that the outage in early December is uncommon, and that particular one, which affected two transmission lines, “is a really rare event,” spokesman Gary Sutherland said.

“We did stop our exports because we needed the power in Quebec,” he said, but added that the company’s top priority is to meet its customers’ demand and to fulfill any contracts. “We have worked with New England now for a very long time. We are seen as a reliable seller.”

Looking forward, he said, the company is very confident it will be able to meet any future commitments.

Public Service of New Hampshire spokesman Martin Murray echoed that.

“From our perspective, Hydro-Quebec has proven to be a very reliable source of energy,” he said.

Northern Pass is a joint venture between PSNH, its parent company Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec. The 1,200-megawatt transmission line would carry hydropower from Canada, across the border into New Hampshire and into the New England grid. The project has faced pushback from environmentalists, landowners and politicians. Northern Pass officials have said they expect to announce a compromise this spring and are not ruling out further burial of the 187-mile line.

“We’re very confident we’re going to see Hydro-Quebec continue to be a baseload source of energy for New England and New Hampshire,” Murray said.


Source: http://www.concordmonitor.c...

DEC 28 2014
http://www.windaction.org/posts/41879-widespread-hydro-quebec-outage-fuels-concern-over-future-reliability-in-n-h
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