- The head of ISO-New England said the region is put in a "precarious position" during periods of extreme cold, when competition with residential heating for natural gas supplies can send commodity levels higher and power prices up along with them.
- ISO President and CEO Gordon van Welie said in a "State of the Grid" call this week that reductions in coal, oil and nuclear power have lead the region to lean more heavily on natural gas, alongside the growth of solar and wind power. The shift is "bringing both benefits and challenges to reliable operation of the power system," he said.
- New England needs additional energy infrastructure, including new gas pipelines, van Welie said, adding that new transmission infrastructure "will also be needed to fully realize the New England states’ clean energy goals."
"The New England states are leading the nation in development of energy-efficiency measures and
support of clean energy resources," van Welie said, but make no mistake: "The transformation of New England’s generation fleet is continuing unabated."
The region is in desperate need of additional energy infrastructure, including pipelines that would meet growing demand for natural gas for both heating and power generation. In 2000, natural gas supplied just 15% of the grid's power, but since then the total has risen to almost half — some 49%.
The retirement of Entergy's Vermont Yankee nuclear facility in 2014 dropped nuclear's share of New England's generation from 34% to 30%. Because gas power plants make up 44% of the region’s generating capacity, van Welie said the availability of natural gas for power generation "has a profound impact on both grid reliability and power prices."
Despite the gas reliance, the grid chief said New England states are "leading the nation in development of energy-efficiency measures and support of clean energy resources," though he said the transition would require development of newer, faster and more flexible supply "that can ramp their output up and down on command to balance the variable output of these weather-dependent resources.
"Paradoxically, the current technology that can do this best is in natural-gas generators," can Welie said. The region has two large pumped-hydro storage facilities, but and many states have launched initiatives to develop more advanced energy storage options.
In December, the ISO indicated it would have sufficient power supplies to meet demand but said that for the third winter in a row, the operator would implement a Winter Reliability Program to address the possibility that gas-fired generators may not be able to get the fuel they need to operate during cold weather.