The Courant (Hartford Connecticut) Sep 11, 2014
Efficiency, Renewables Cut Away At Growth In New England Electricity Use
BOSTON — Efficiency efforts throughout New England are expected in the next decade to offset most of the increase in demand for electricity, officials with the region’s electric grid said Thursday.
More distributed generation in the form of solar installations also will cut away at the amount of power needed from the region’s largely natural-gas-fired power plants.
ISO New England, the nonprofit group that runs the region’s wholesale power markets and operates the power grid, said Thursday that electricity use would be 129,000 megawatt hours in 2014, growing only slightly to 130,500 megawatt hours in 2023.
The report’s projections take a general stab at outlining how demand for electricity measures up to what’s available through the region’s power plants, a forecast that has increased in importance after a number of large, important power plants announced they would be closing down in the next few years.
“The message is much different this year: We are short on resources,” Michael I. Henderson, the grid’s director of regional planning and cooperation, told a Boston conference room full of state officials, energy advocates and representatives of the power industry. “With retirements coming we’re facing additional challenges.”
The fear is that the region is getting closer and closer to being over-reliant on natural gas, if it hasn’t crossed that line already.
While that shift has resulted in much lower power prices for residents and businesses, higher demand for the fuel has not been met with booming construction of more pipelines to get it here. The outcome: New England has paid serious premiums for the fuel in the past few winters because of competition between power plants and the gas distribution companies that feed homes and businesses.
While the 2014 Regional System Plan released in draft form Thursday gave a nod to the seriousness of the gas issue, it doesn’t offer a clear long-term solution. For the short term, ISO New England has received federal approval for a program of stop-gap measures to get the region through another winter that is likely to prove tough for the electric grid.
The winter reliability program provides a financial incentive for power plants to stockpile oil or to arrange for deliveries of natural gas ahead of time. It also provides additional incentives for large users of power to turn off or ratchet down their usage during times when the system is especially constrained.
For the first time, the regional plan showed a projection of distributed electric generation projects, which are large solar arrays. According to the group’s analysis, New England had 500 megawatts of solar last year, which will grow to 1,800 megawatts in a decade. Connecticut’s share of that is the second largest of any state in the region, behind Massachusetts, with 345.4 megawatts in 2023.