By Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

EVERETT -- Massachusetts could provide a route for more natural gas to flow into other New England states, just as the Bay State seeks electrical lines running through northern states to import wind power or hydroelectric from Canada.

"Many of the states have a real interest in growing out their gas-line infrastructure, and the most likely way for that to occur is some path coming up from Massachusetts or the south," Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan told the News Service. "And the flip is probably true with regards to any kind of a large-scale clean energy. The transmission is going to be coming from the north in the end."

The goals could be at play as the region's governors negotiate energy agreements with one another.

"So can everybody have a larger conversation about where our energy comes from, and what the sources are going to be? That's exactly what's going on," Sullivan said.

A number of pipes already bring natural gas into Massachusetts, and some pipes continue northwards, said Sullivan, who said the conversations involve both expanding the size of existing pipes and laying new pipes. He said there are no actual proposals before regulators.

"Certainly the industry has begun to talk about pipeline expansion. But that is not something that is going to happen overnight.


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It is obviously a very complicated process in terms of any kind of siting or any kind of permitting," Sullivan said after testifying to a House and Senate Ways and Means budget panel at Everett High School.

Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat who has opposed the construction of a natural gas plant near her district and worked to require utilities to make more natural gas pipeline repairs, asked Sullivan about the overall natural gas picture. Ehrlich mentioned the unrest in Ukraine could affect world prices and United States exports. On a related note, Associated Industries of Massachusetts reported Tuesday that global energy market disruptions caused by the crisis in Ukraine could put upward pressures on prices.

"We are at the end of the energy pipeline where it is more expensive," said Sullivan. He said, "You are seeing a spike and much of that is because of the constraint of the infrastructure system."

While Gov. Deval Patrick has made trips to Quebec for discussions about importing electricity from the Canadian region's enormous hydroelectric facilities, Sullivan said that is not the only form of green energy in play.

"It may very well be hydro, but it also could be on-shore wind, could be off-shore wind," Sullivan said.

There are a number of proposed wind farms seeking permits or in development in Maine and New Hampshire, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, including Oakfield Wind, a 150,000 kilowatt permitted project near the Canadian border in Maine and North Country Wind, a 180,000 project under development in New Hampshire, north of Mount Washington.

Sullivan said ISO New England, the power grid manager, has "projected out there's going to be some 8,000 megawatts that goes offline by 2017. There is going to be a gap." He said wind or large scale hydro would need to go through Maine and New Hampshire or Vermont.

In a different area of power transmission, Rep. Timothy Madden, a Nantucket Democrat, questioned Sullivan about how electrical lines from planned offshore wind farms in Nantucket Sound and farther out to sea would cross shipping and fishing lanes and make landfall.

"Right now I think it's kind of like the Old West, where everyone will throw down their cables wherever they can," said Madden, who also asked what benefit Cape Wind would have aside from "global" benefits.

"Does it make more sense to have one delivery system, one transmission line that everyone can kind of connect into as opposed to having each particular project have its own transmission line, and we actually think it does, so we're actually working on that discussion," Sullivan told the News Service. 

Sullivan said the state's early entry into offshore wind would have economic benefits, with the state likely to reap a larger percentage of a projected 43,000 jobs in the now fledgling U.S. industry.