The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently passed a climate bill that sets a goal for the state to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The bill is one of several successful legislative efforts in Northeastern states to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 100 percent by 2050. To meet these lofty goals—which align with the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of climate change—a significant increase in zero-carbon, intermittent, renewable energy technologies will be required.
For policymakers in the region, hydropower is a particularly appealing renewable energy option; large hydro resources in nearby Quebec could be used to dispatch power to consumers in the Northeastern states during periods of low wind and solar generation. However, communities along proposed hydro transmission line routes have mobilized to stop that idea in its tracks, citing environmental and aesthetic concerns. To overcome these reservations, politicians in the Northeast and Quebec would need to show that there are compelling advantages for both customers and transmission line abutters.
To that end, researchers from the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and the MIT Energy Initiative conducted a study to evaluate the economic impacts of increasing hydropower transmission capacity from Quebec to the Northeast. They project these impacts under three scenarios using a specific modeling system that reflects both regional economic activity and hourly electricity operations. Starting in 2026, transmission capacity is increased by 10, 30, or 50% over current capacity into New York and all New England states, and carbon emissions are capped in accordance with regional climate targets in each case.
The researchers estimate that by 2050, electricity imports enabled by these three transmission expansions will save the New York state economy 38-40 cents per kilowatt hour (KWh) and the New England economy 30-33 cents per KWh, compared to a reference scenario in which current and projected state renewable energy technology policies are implemented with carbon emissions capped to achieve mid-century regional goals. The findings were published in the journal Energy Policy.
“These economy-wide savings are significantly higher than the cost of the electricity itself,” says Joint Program research scientist Mei Yuan, the lead author of the study. “Moreover, the carbon limits that we impose in these scenarios raise fuel prices enough to make electricity cost-competitive in multiple economic sectors. This accelerates electrification in both New England and New York, particularly between 2030 and 2050.”
The three transmission capacity expansion scenarios have a slightly lower average cost of achieving all states’ carbon reduction targets in the area.