New England should have sufficient electricity supplies to meet consumer demand this winter, according to regional power grid operator ISO New England, Inc. But because natural gas pipeline constraints could limit electricity production, the grid operator has implemented a Winter Reliability Program to help ensure supply meets demand.
ISO-NE is the regional transmission organization responsible for most of New England's electric grid. In that role, it forecasts electricity demand, and operates markets to match up generation with demand.
On December 5, 2016, ISO-NE released a statement addressing winter 2016-2017 with respect to electricity reliability. The grid operator projects that at normal winter temperatures of about 7 degrees Fahrenheit, peak demand will reach 21,340 MW, or 22,028 MW if extreme winter weather of 2 degrees F occurs. This would be above the 2015-2016 winter peak demand of 19,545 MW (February 14, 2016, from the hour from 6 to 7 p.m.), and below the all-time regional winter peak of 22,818 MW (a cold snap on January 15, 2004).
According to the grid operator, electricity supplies should be sufficient to meet consumer demand this winter -- but natural gas pipeline constraints and other factors create risks that could affect reliability.
Natural gas generated 49% of the region's electricity in 2015, and natural gas-fired power plants represent about 44% (or 14,850 megawatts) of the region's total generating capacity. But ISO-NE views about 3,450 MW of natural gas-fired generating capacity as "at risk" this winter due to the insufficiency of the region's natural gas infrastructure. Despite some new pipeline projects and the present availability of liquified natural gas (LNG), the region faces the loss of 1,500 MW of coal- and oil-fired generation this spring with the closure of the Brayton Point Power Station in Massachusetts.
ISO-NE touts its 2016-2017 Winter Reliability Program as designed to address these "multiple risks" of pipeline constraints and non-gas unit retirement. As previously approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the program will run from December 1, 2016 to February 28, 2017, and includes an oil inventory component, an LNG component, and a demand response component.
In light of this planning, and barring "unexpected resource outages or fuel delivery constraints," ISO-NE projects New England's electricity supplies should be sufficient this winter to meet consumer demand.