ISO New England (ISO-NE) President and CEO Gordon van Welie, during the Jan. 30 “State of the Grid: 2017” media briefing, said that as of Jan. 1, private transmission companies had proposed to build 17 transmission projects to move more than 10,000 MW of power.
Some of those projects – which are elective projects and not reliability upgrades – would import wind or hydro energy from Canada, and others would tap wind farms in northern Maine and offshore wind in southern New England, he said.
“If constructed, these merchant transmission lines could help address some of the region’s fuel security challenges and also help offset the need for more natural gas infrastructure,” he said.
However, since Canada’s demand for power peaks in the winter, any future long-term contracts for Canadian hydro energy or wind energy should ensure that power can be delivered to New England during the winter, he said.
According to the most recent queue, posted on Feb. 1, projects listed as “ETU,” or elective transmission upgrade, include:
- The “150 kV HVDC Tie – Import Only,” 400-MW project in Colchester, Vt., with the interconnection point: “NYPA 230/115 kV substation to VELCO 345 kV New Haven Substation”
- The “300 kV HVDC/AC Tie – Import Only,” 1,090-MW project in Rockingham, N.H., with the interconnection point: “HQ Des Cantes substation to PSNH Deerfield substation”
- The “Internal HVDC – North to South flow,” 1,000-MW project in Suffolk, Mass., with the interconnection point: “NMISA to NSTAR 345 kV K Street substation”
- The “AC Line from NMISA to Chester and Pittsfield, ME,” 1,200-MW project in Somerset and Penobscot, Maine, with the interconnection point: “Emera Keene Rd substation and CMP Section 3023 345 kV Line”
During the media briefing, van Welie noted that New England’s traditional power system is evolving into a hybrid grid, where electricity demand is met in two ways: while the power system will still have large generators, such as wind farms, connected to the regional transmission system, demand will also be met by thousands of small resources connected “behind the meter” at customers’ homes and businesses.
The hybrid grid, he said, will run on significant amounts of carbon-free renewable energy, backed up by fast and flexible power plants ready to jump in and balance the variable output from wind and solar resources. That back-up fleet will likely by natural gas-fired generators, given their growing presence and their ability to come online quickly and ramp their output up and down rapidly, he said, adding that some hydro resources are also likely to be part of the equation.
The evolution to a hybrid grid, on the way to a fully renewable power system, is largely driven by the New England states’ clean energy initiatives, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, where carbon allowances for power plants are bought and sold, he said.
As of early January, ISO-NE’s interconnection queue had proposals totaling more than 13,000 MW, van Welie said, adding that nearly half of the new generation would be fueled by natural gas, and wind farms make up most of the rest; most of the new wind farms are proposed for northern Maine or offshore Massachusetts. The queue also included more than 700 MW of grid-scale solar power and nearly 80 MW of grid-scale battery storage, he said.
The hybrid grid will include growing levels of behind-the-meter solar power, which will reduce electricity demand on sunny days, he said, adding, however, that solar power does not help reduce the winter peak as the sun has set by the time the demand is peaking.
Widespread and cost-effective energy storage will be key to integrating high levels of renewable resources, he said, noting that emerging energy storage technologies, including batteries, are improving and will be a growing presence on the power system.
However, sufficient levels of new storage resources are unlikely to be developed in time to compensate for the upcoming generator retirements, he said. In the last three years, van Welie noted, more than 4,000 MW of coal, oil, and nuclear generators have retired or announced that they will retire by 2019, while another 6,000 MW of the remaining coal and oil plants are at risk for retirement, given their age, the low price of natural gas, and environmental requirements.
Among other things, he noted that the forward capacity market, or FCM, procures the resources that will be needed in three years’ time, and that since 2013, the capacity auction has cleared 3,000 MW of new generating capacity that will help replace retiring generators, with most of the new capacity using natural gas. The next FCM auction will be held starting on Feb. 6 to obtain resource commitments for 2020-2021, he said, adding that more than 40,000 MW of capacity qualified to compete to meet the projected need of about 34,000 MW.
While the competitive markets have attracted much-needed investment in power plants, and the FCM is helping to sustain the resources required to meet regional needs, the markets are vulnerable, he said. As the New England states step up efforts to meet their clean energy requirements and goals, they are considering the use of long-term contracts or other incentives to attract more clean energy resources, but those contracts and incentives could have unintended consequences, he said. Resources with guaranteed revenue streams could artificially suppress prices in the marketplace, which could deter new resource investments and hinder retention of existing resources, ultimately undermining resource adequacy, he said.
The region’s challenge is to find a way to maintain competitive markets that appropriately reward both clean energy resources and the conventional generators that will be needed for the foreseeable future, he said.
ISO-NE will continue addressing the challenges that could jeopardize power system reliability, he said, adding that New England needs to improve fuel infrastructure so that it can reliably support the grid as it evolves towards a system powered by battery-backed renewables and distributed generation. Until that evolution is complete, he said, the region will need resources like natural gas-fired power plants.
ISO-NE looks forward to continuing its collaboration with states, market participants, consumer advocates, and all regional stakeholders to find mutually agreeable solutions to the challenges facing the region today, van Welie said.