ISO-NE 2018 Regional Electricity Outlook

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Regional electricity grid operator ISO New England, Inc. has released its 2018 Regional Electricity Outlook. According to the report, "the biggest challenge to the reliability of the grid is the lack of fuel infrastructure to supply the fleet of natural-gas-fired generators, further emission restrictions on oil-fired generation, and the reality that older oil and nuclear generators are becoming less economically competitive and may retire before the region has added sufficient new energy sources to replace them."

The report cites competitive forces has having "unleashed new approaches for producing electricity in a cleaner way and integrating technology that enables different types of resources to participate in the wholesale markets." It notes new resource types entering the wholesale market, including demand resources, and fast-responding energy storage devices.

With respect to energy supply, the 2018 outlook notes that the amount of wind and solar power in New England continues to grow "and is making a difference in how the ISO operates the power system and designs the wholesale markets." In 2017, the amount of new wind power seeking interconnection in New England surpassed proposed new natural-gas-fired generation for the first time, including significant amounts in Maine and offshore of Massachusetts.

On the demand side, it notes that significant investments in solar resources and energy-efficiency measures have moderated demand for wholesale electricity, but that electrifying the transportation and heating sectors to reduce their carbon emissions could lead to increased demand.

ISO-NE has previously identified the risk that power plants will run out of fuel as the foremost challenge to a reliable power grid in New England. Last month, ISO-NE released an operational fuel security study analyzing fuel security risks facing region's power plants under a wide range of hypothetical future scenarios. That report concluded that maintaining the electric grid's reliability "is likely to become more challenging, especially if current power system trends continue."

The 2018 Regional Electricity Outlook notes that while ISO-NE plays a role in addressing regional fuel-delivery constraints, "it will be up to market participants and state officials to take actions to secure forward fuel arrangements or bolster supply- or demand-side infrastructure." The report identifies potentially appropriate investments as including "enhancements to natural gas infrastructure or the supply chains for liquefied natural gas and oil; relaxation of rules to allow easier permitting and operation of dual-fuel resources; investments in even more renewable energy and any transmission needed to deliver it; or further measures to significantly reduce demand on the power system or the gas system," or some combination of these.

While reliability is core to the grid operator's priorities, the report acknowledges that New England's policymakers, businesses and citizens also value economic and environmental goals. The report specifically highlighted what it called "the reliability, economic, and environmental consequences of our situation: that regional action to resolve fuel-security risks will involve costly infrastructure investments and perhaps the retention of certain critical energy resources, but inaction will also come with a bill for high energy prices when energy supply is constrained—as well as the potential for greater risks to power system reliability and higher emissions."

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