Low temps and high energy prices highlight challenges facing regional energy grid
The past week has brought us some typical New England winter weather, including bitterly cold temperatures and a good deal of snow. These wintry conditions are what we have come to expect this time of year, but it’s been anything but normal on the region’s energy grid.
The region relies heavily on natural gas as a fuel source for electricity, but natural gas supplies are tight because of limited space on the pipeline supplying New England. This has led to price spikes on the wholesale market. Normal prices of $30 to $40 per megawatt hour have increased up to 5 times the normal cost and fluctuated between $100 to $200 per megawatt hour.
In one instance this past weekend, prices rose to $1,000 per megawatt hour and grid operators, ISO-New England, was forced to implement a series of emergency measures to maintain the reliability of the grid and avoid power outages. It asked for a delay in any routine maintenance or testing that would affect power generation or transmission, and on Saturday, it tapped emergency reserves and bought the power it needed from the New York energy grid.
With limited gas supplies and rising prices, power generators are increasing their use of coal and oil to keep the lights on. In fact, the region “maxed out” all the available coal and nuclear resources in the region for prolonged stretches during the past week. This should make New Englanders take note – especially our elected leaders and policy makers. The region is anticipating several high-profile coal and nuclear plants will close in the come years, like Vermont Yankee and Brayton Point.
The operation of the grid during the conditions of the past week adds further to the mounting evidence that New England needs to develop new sources of clean, low-cost, and reliable energy. Northern Pass is a proposed transmission line that would bring clean, renewable hydropower from Canada into the New England power grid, and we believe is part of the region’s energy solution.
Here’s how Northern Pass can help New England meet its clean energy goals:
ICYMI: Recent news about New England’s energy supply crunch
“Region’s electric grid feeling strain of cold-weather demand” New Hampshire Union Leader, Dec. 18
“It’s time to list to the region’s energy experts,” The Salem News, Dec. 17
“New England narrowly escapes power outages,” Forbes Magazine online, Dec. 15
“NE Governors’ game-plan for energy boost,” Hartford Courant, Dec. 13
“Tight pipelines hinder natural gas chance,” New Hampshire Union Leader, Dec. 11
“Is Boston the new Japan?” Real Clear Energy, Dec. 9
“The horrible lack of planning that could force New England into a serious energy crisis this winter,” Forbes Magazine, Dec. 5