National Grid Northeast 80 by 50 Pathway Overview

According to their press release on June 15, 2018 “National Grid, one of the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities, released the “Northeast 80×50 Pathway,” a blueprint for drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 (“80×50”). The Pathway is the first of its kind in the Northeast.” This post is an overview of the pathway.

National Grid is a business and they have the opportunity to parlay corporate goals into a package that they hope to use to get political and public support. However, their business goals are not necessarily compatible with the best interests of the majority of their rate payers. In this post I summarize this effort so that other National Grid ratepayers will understand what is involved.

I have been following clean energy initiatives since I retired and because I am a National Grid ratepayer this personally affects me. Most ratepayers do not have any idea how far reaching, how risky and how expensive this plan could be and I hope posts on this topic will educate them.   Before retirement from a non-regulated generating company, I was actively analyzing air quality regulations like this so I have the background to interpret the plan. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Summary

According to the summary of the report:

This paper presents National Grid’s integrated blueprint for New York and New England to reduce greenhouse gas emissions deeply below 1990 levels while supporting economic growth and maintaining affordability and customer choice. Our approach combines several mutually-reinforcing strategies that together provide a clear pathway to significant emissions reductions and signal a paradigm shift in the way we all relate to energy. National Grid is keen to achieve greater collaboration within the Northeast on this pressing and critical issue.

The Pathway calls for three big shifts in our energy systems by 2030:

    • Accelerating the zero-carbon electricity transition, by ramping up renewable electricity deployment to achieve 67% zero-carbon electricity supply;
    • A transformation of the transport sector, by reaching more than 10 million electric vehicles on Northeast roads (roughly 50% of all vehicles); and
    • A transformation of the heat sector, by doubling the rate of efficiency retrofits and converting nearly all of the region’s 5 million oil-heated buildings to electric heat pumps or natural gas.

I will address these three items separately in more detail in later posts.

The Pathway is pretty sketchy on details. For example consider how the Pathway says it will guide the transformations:

The Pathway proposes three overarching principles: target the highest emitting fuels and sectors first; optimize the utilization of existing networks; and avoid price shocks through strategic use of electricity and natural gas use. Building on these principles, this paper lays out the analytical basis for the Pathway and proposes policy and regulatory approaches to help the region achieve its emissions targets reliably and affordably.

Given the relatively clean electricity in the region, the Pathway’s first principle is to target emissions reductions in the transportation and buildings sectors. It notes that this will require not only continuing to reduce coal and oil use for power, but also dramatically reducing our reliance on petroleum fuels in the transportation and building sectors. Not surprisingly, that solution calls for more electrical use and National Grid graciously has offered to provide that power.

The second principle is to “optimize the utilization of existing networks”. I read that to mean, not surprisingly, use National Grid’s transmission and distribution network. I am sure they will be very happy to provide.

Finally, the third principle proposes to avoid price shocks by using electricity and natural gas that National Grid provides. That they even mention the possibility of price shocks should be a heads up. The Pathway has “good” news:

The good news is that, driven by zero-carbon electricity and the large-scale switch to cleaner transportation and heating fuels, the Pathway envisions dramatically reduced emissions while also saving money for customers. From a customer point of view, any cost increases on the electric or natural gas bill would be offset by reduced expenditures on petroleum products (see Table 1). Additionally, the cost of new electricity generation is largely offset by new demand from the transportation and heating sectors, keeping the transition affordable.

There is no justification for the claim that spending less on petroleum products will offset cost increases on the electric or natural gas bill but at least I can understand the logic. How the transition will be affordable by offsetting the cost of new electricity generation with demand from electrifying transportation and heating sectors makes no sense to me. For starters consumers will have to buy new cars and new heating systems and particularly for transportation, infrastructure will have to be purchased. If I buy an electric vehicle I will need a home charging system and charging systems will have to be set up if electric vehicles are to be used for longer trips. All that costs money.

In my opinion National Grid had hoped that this plan would garner support from the environmental advocates who want greenhouse gas emission reductions. However, the Pathway notes that natural gas will continue to play an important role as a reliable fuel source for heat and electricity generation. Based on the numbers I agree completely. However, there are many environmental advocates who now argue against any new fossil fuel infrastructure. I don’t think those folks can be appeased by the rest of this simply because they are all in for no greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (https://reformingtheenergyvisioninconvenienttruths.wordpress.com). Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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