UPDATE: July 28, 2020: ISO New England says it has formally selected National Grid and Eversource's Greater Boston Ready Path transmission solution to address reliability issues related to the retirement of the Mystic Generating Station in 2024.
Developers put forth 36 proposals to address the reliability issue and an initial review whittled the list down to five proposals. Ready Path won out on cost.
"The ISO did not advance the other four projects to the second phase of review, as it is unlikely that further review would have led to their selection," the grid operator said in a statement.
ISO New England in June identified National Grid and Eversource's "Ready Path Solution" as the most cost-effective way to address transmission reliability issues following the planned retirement of the Mystic Generating Station in 2024.
The $49 million project is inexpensive and relatively simple compared to 35 other proposals, which carried price tags up to $745 million.
The ISO is expected to issue a final decision July 17 and is accepting comments through today. At least one competing developer is unhappy with the grid operator's initial determination: Officials at Anbaric Development Partners say the Ready Path approach is a "Band-Aid" that will not address the region's longer-term energy needs.
A "Band-Aid" solution?
Boston will face overloads on multiple transmission lines as a result of Mystic's retirement so the grid operator for New England issued a request for proposed solutions in December 2019. It was the ISO's first competitive transmission solicitation under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Order 1000 framework.
Anbaric says the ISO made errors, however, and the grid operator's decision to eliminate its own project from consideration runs contrary to Order 1000's requirement that projects be "more efficient or cost-effective."
"Projects that appear to be more expensive may in-fact be more economical to ratepayers when a range of factors other than up-front capital costs, and of the types identified by Order No. 1000 are considered," Anbaric said in June 16 comments to the ISO, after its own Mystic Reliability Wind Link was eliminated from consideration. The project includes an underwater and underground transmission link into Boston that the company says would utilize existing infrastructure.
Anbaric proposed different versions of the Wind Link project, including a $449 million 900 MW AC transmission link and a $745 million 1,200 MW HVDC link. Both could push power north or south as needed, officials said, while the larger project could provide more reactive power to integrate renewables and allow other older plants to retire.
According to Anbaric, its project would eliminate the need for $620 million in near-term system upgrades the ISO will need to address to incorporate offshore wind being procured by the region.
The National Grid and Eversource project is "a Band-Aid which may not even solve the problem," Theodore Paradise, Anbaric's senior vice president of transmission strategy, told Utility Dive. And the Ready Path approach, he said, requires on-time development of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile transmission line which could be subject to a voter referendum in November.
A delay in the NCEC project could require Mystic to remain online and potentially result in additional costs through out-of-market cost support payments to the plant, according to Paradise.
"Selection of the least capital cost project may equate to wasting $49 million dollars of ratepayer money," Anbaric said in its comments to ISO. "It may also result in additional multi-hundred million dollar supply subsidy costs to the region while other reliability needs are addressed."
The ISO, in rejecting Anbaric's proposal, also said the project would need to utilize existing Mystic facilities too early to meet the June 1, 2024, required in-service date. Anbaric officials say construction could occur utilizing construction outages at the plant without impacting reliability.
The grid operator told Utility Dive that its RFP "was a competitive process and the ISO didn’t dictate a solution."
"The response was robust and resulted in a number of proposals for solutions, with varying costs. The ISO said that cost would be one of the primary drivers," a spokesperson said in a statement. The RFP aimed to address reliability issues in the Greater Boston area "in the most timely and cost-effective way. We found the reliability issue could be solved with a comparatively inexpensive project."
The ISO plans to post the final listing of qualifying Phase 1 proposals on or before July 17, 2020. If the ISO stays with the initial recommendation, the next step would be to complete the solutions study process, which would be expedited because the grid operator has identified the preferred solution.
"Once that is completed, the preferred solution would become final," said ISO officials.
National Grid surprised no other projects shortlisted
Eversource and National Grid say a major selling point of their joint project was its minimal environmental and community impacts by maximizing use of existing transmission facilities, and relative certainty they can meet the in-service deadline.
The project now moves to the second phase of ISO New England's review — though without competition.
"We thought there would be multiple projects shortlisted," Brian Gemmell, National Grid's vice president of transmission asset management and planning, told Utility Dive. But the Ready Path Solution "was the lowest cost, when the costs will be socialized among all ratepayers in New England, and will be in-service several months prior to the planned Mystic retirement."
"The ISO elected to in essence truncate their process," Eversource President of Transmission Bill Quinlan told Utility Dive. "I think in their view they had a clear winner."
There are two aspects of the project. One is overcoming contingencies for the flows of energy into the greater Boston area, given any generation dispatch profile. Part of the solution is to re-divert power flows down the existing transmission circuits where there is available capacity.
A second part of the project addresses a lack of dynamic voltage support caused by the Mystic retirement, through the use of a non-generating solution called a STATCOM. Power electronic technologies for transmission has been around since the 1970s, said Gemmell, but this is the first time it has been used in this application for the Boston area.
The substation based solution uses a voltage-sourced converter to either absorb or generate dynamic reactive power to the grid.
Eversource and National Grid "proposed a wide range of projects" but it was the "most simple" that was selected, said Quinlan. The ISO "looked at what was the lowest-cost option for solving the issue, the reliability need they identified, and what gave them a high degree of confidence it could be delivered on time."
If the New England grid operator sticks with its initial decision to utilize the Ready Path Solution, it is unclear what will happen to Anbaric's proposal but company officials say it remains viable and necessary.
"It may require a state action — maybe a state procurement to integrate offshore wind," said Paradise. "That's the kind of thing that could move it forward."
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project.