A Massachusetts coal-fired power plant is heading toward retirement, making it the latest in a series of New England power plants to announce it will close its doors. The closing is seen by many as another step toward reaching New England’s clean energy goals; however, energy officials are concerned that these plant closings will threaten the region’s ability to make the power it needs to reliably meet the electricity demands.
Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset filed papers on Oct. 7 indicating it will no longer provide power to the New England energy grid after May 2017. When it closes, 1,500 megawatts of power generation capacity will be removed from the New England grid. Marcia Blomberg, a spokeswoman for ISO New England, told the Boston Globe that the New England power grid operator is studying potential effects of Brayton Point’s retirement and indicated it could ask Brayton remain open.
“We can’t prevent a resource from retiring, but if our study shows that a resource is needed for reliability,” she said, “they don’t have to stay, but we can ask.”
One of ISO-New England’s main roles is to project the region’s energy needs in the years ahead, as well as analyzing whether the region has the generation capacity to meet those needs. . Following a recent review of 2017-2018, an ISO memo reported a projected shortfall. If all the plants set to close retire as planned, the memo states, the New England grid will fall 1,540 megawatts below its capacity requirements, meaning the region’s available power plants could no longer provide enough power to reliably meet demand.
The ISO-New England memo says the forecast “is indicative that the region will require new capacity to satisfy” New England’s energy needs.
Another indication that New England will require additional sources of energy is last winter’s natural gas supply crunch. As we wrote about in a previous post, ISO-New England came close to imposing blackouts last winter due to constraints on the supply of natural gas that the region depends on for electrical generation.
“If we had lost one more big generator or a transmission line, we would have had to resort to our emergency procedures,” Executive Vice President and CEO for ISO-New England Vamsi Chadalavada told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Those procedures are to call on help from neighboring areas, then to call for voluntary conservation, and if that’s not sufficient, to institute controlled power outages … We came quite close.”
If New England’s power grid was strained during a normal winter, the recent announcement that Brayton Point will retire – as well as other power plants like Vermont Yankee – only adds to concerns that New England is coming close to being unable to meet its energy needs.
Looking further into the future, ISO-New England projects roughly 25 percent of New England’s power plants are headed for retirement by 2020, representing 8,300 megawatts of electricity generation. ISO-New England estimates that more than 5,000 megawatts of new generation will be needed to meet the region’s needs, but where that energy will come from is uncertain.
We believe that providing access to the 1,200 megawatts of clean hydropower from the Northern Pass can help fill this energy gap. The project will provide a base load source of clean, renewable energy available for regular use and during times of peak demand. Shifting from fossil fuels to more renewable sources of energy is a positive step for New England, but as older power plants close, new energy projects like Northern Pass must be developed to ensure there is enough power for the millions of homes and businesses throughout New Hampshire and New England.