I have frequently wondered why Representative Ed Markey is such a powerful antinuclear activist. The mystery has not been just trying to understand why he is so actively opposed to nuclear energy, but how he accumulated so much legislative power so early in his career.
A few days ago, I started piecing together some interesting connections that may (or may not) be entirely coincidental.
In 1971, when oil was still available on the world market for about $2-3 per barrel, the Everett, MA liquified natural gas terminal began operating. Not only was oil extremely cheap, but New England was one of the more nuclear regions of the country, hosting such plants as Connecticut Yankee, Yankee Rowe, Millstone I, and Pilgrim. The nearby states of New York and New Jersey hosted Indian Point Unit I, Nine Mile Point Unit I, R. E. Ginna, and Oyster Creek.
Several additional plants including Maine Yankee and Vermont Yankee were nearing completion. There were a number of additional construction projects already underway including Indian Point 2 and 3, Shoreham, and Millstone Unit 2.
Looking back with a business point of view, it seems like a strange time and place for any large multinational corporation to have placed a big bet on a capital intensive technology like LNG.
In 1976, during a campaign season in which energy was an important issue, a young lawyer named Ed Markey ran a successful election campaign in the congressional district that includes Everett, the host of the only operating LNG terminal in the country.
During the 35 years that Representative Markey has been actively working to halt nuclear energy development, the Everett terminal has received more than 1000 LNG shipments. It supplies approximately 20% of New England’s natural gas market. Natural gas provides about 60% of the electricity consumed in the region. (Many of the nuclear plants listed above as being operable in 1971 were shutdown before their initial 40 year license period expired.)
The Everett terminal now hosts one of the single largest independent power plants in the country. It mostly burns imported natural gas brought by LNG tanker from Trinidad. The corporate owners of the facility have recently developed an additional LNG reception terminal off shore.
GDF SUEZ, Everett’s current corporate owner is proud of its market success and has published a six page brochure with highlights titled Fueling the Growth of LNG in North America. That brochure includes an interesting quote on page 4:
Throughout the years, GDF SUEZ has consistently championed efforts to expand LNG’s market reach in North America.
The brochure concludes with a proud description that would qualify as a smoking gun if it bothered to mention the fact that LNG’s success has come as a direct result of the success of the antinuclear activists to destroy its main competition.
Since 1971, We’ve Been Redefining the Role of Natural Gas in North America.
GDF SUEZ has been a pioneer in the modern LNG industry both internationally and in North America, where more than three decades ago, the management of our subsidiary Distrigas of Massachusetts saw the future in LNG, a fuel that many in the energy industry summarily dismissed at the time. Since receiving our first shipment of LNG in November 1971 in Everett, Massachusetts, we’ve been a driving force in the adoption of this safe, clean-burning fuel throughout parts of North America. In the 1970s, we employed LNG to mitigate New England’s regional energy crisis.
Perhaps I am just being cynical, but I think I might have figured out where Markey gets his political clout.
Rep. Markey works hard to obtain government funds to protect the vulnerable ships that deliver cargo to the Everett terminal. From an article titled LNG, Oil Tankers are Vulnerable to Terrorist Attacks, More Resources Needed.
Markey, whose district includes the nation’s only urban LNG importation terminal, the Distrigas facility in Everett, said, “We know that terrorists are looking for the weakest link in our security efforts, and this GAO report is a timely reminder that LNG and oil tankers are serious targets. Given the fact that LNG is being transported into Boston harbor every several days on the way to the Everett LNG terminal, an attack on one of these tankers could be devastating. I will be working with my colleagues to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security responds to the vulnerabilities exposed in this report and that their efforts are not hampered by a lack or resources. We cannot skimp when it comes to public safety.”
There is a remarkable contrast between the success of the Everett LNG terminal and the market performance of the Cove Point LNG terminal that was built a few years later and a few hundred miles south. While the GDF SUEZ facility in New England was growing and receiving 50% of the LNG shipments received in the US during the period from 1971-2003, the Cove Point facility was virtually mothballed. It stopped receiving any LNG shipments in 1980. It did not start receiving additional shipments until 2003.
Interestingly enough, the only nuclear plant within 250 miles of Cove Point that has been permanently shut down is Three Mile Island Unit 2. No member of the Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania or Virginia congressional delegate has an attitude about nuclear energy that matches that of Rep. Markey.
PS: As a measure of the influence that Rep. Markey has with his colleagues, I want to recount a personal story. Sometime around 2001-2002, I had the opportunity to brief Congressman Mike Bilirakis and Congressman Joe Barton about the potential benefits of closed cycle nuclear gas turbines. At the end of the intense half hour of discussion, Congressman Barton closed the meeting with a memorable question – “Do you know how hard it would be to get any support for this technology from Ed Markey?” End PS.