Governor Chafee has long been an advocate for bringing Canada’s clean, renewable energy to the Ocean State. But instead of going ahead with a bill to facilitate signing up Canadian energy suppliers of hydropower, as Connecticut and other northeastern states have, the governor last month backed off, and punted for a feasibility study.
Let us hope the study identifies optimal ways to get Canadian hydropower here. Rhode Island will have a difficult time climbing out of the bottom rankings in competitiveness until it has a steady supply of inexpensive energy. It is also important to minimize the emissions of dirty, carbon-based energy into the atmosphere.
Renewable energy from Quebec would be one-third the cost of locally produced wind power and also be much less expensive and more predictable than local hydropower. Two years ago, the governor led a delegation of local manufacturing executives to the Churchill River hydroelectric project in Labrador so they could see for themselves the huge potential of hydropower, with which, alongside other forms of renewable energy, Quebec and Labrador are endowed in abundance. Electricity from that facility will become available in 2016.
Even before he was elected mayor of Warwick, in 1992, Mr. Chafee worked for Canadian Connection, which lobbied on behalf of Hydro Quebec, the provincial utility that has invested heavily over the last four decades in capturing renewable resources in the hopes of exporting it to high-cost energy markets in the northeastern U.S.
Though it creates no air pollution or greenhouse gases, low-cost hydropower has always had its environmentalist detractors, however. Dams for the James Bay project in northern Quebec flooded vast areas. One issue in bringing electricity to southern New England is the path that high-voltage transmission lines would cut through the White Mountains and New Hampshire’s forests. Of course, almost everything in life is a balancing act, requiring an assessment of costs and benefits. On balance, hydropower’s benefits are enormous.
National Grid warned that the way Rhode Island was going about things – mandating a certain amount of hydropower – would have put the region in a weak bargaining position with Canadian energy suppliers.
We look for the feasibility study to address that issue, and others. Surely, it is in the interest of Rhode Island ratepayers to get relatively cheap, clean hydropower here.
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