Citing Trump initiative, grid operator delays report

Citing Trump initiative, grid operator delays report

Perry wants to halt shutdowns of coal, nuclear plants

A TRUMP ADMINISTRATION INITIATIVE to financially buttress struggling coal and nuclear power plants is prompting the operator of the New England power grid to put off the release of a long-awaited fuel security study.

The study’s release was delayed because the Trump administration initiative “raised the potential for significant changes to the wholesale electricity markets in the US,” according to a statement issued Friday by the grid operator, known as the Independent System Operator, or ISO, for New England.

Three coal power plants remain in New England – two in New Hampshire and one in Connecticut, which is scheduled to go out of service in 2021. Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth is scheduled to shut down in 2019. The other nuclear plants in New England are Seabrook in New Hampshire and Millstone in Connecticut.

ISO-New England has been working on its fuel security study since late 2016 and planned to release it Oct. 24. Few details have been released about the study, but it appears to focus on whether New England’s heavy reliance on natural gas for generating electricity could eventually put the grid at risk without the construction of additional pipeline capacity. The study is expected to analyze fuel security for the winter of 2024-2025 “because challenges to power system reliability are expected to be manageable in the near term.”

The grid operator decided to hold off after US Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to develop and issue grid resiliency rules. In a Sept. 28 letter to the commission, Perry said shutdowns of coal and nuclear power plants are depriving the nation of plants that have the resiliency needed to keep the lights on during natural and man-made disasters. He specifically mentioned the “Polar Vortex, Superstorm Sandy, and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.”

Coal and nuclear power plants have been shutting down in New England and across the country because they have been unable to compete with plants fueled by cheaper natural gas. But Perry in his letter appeared to put much of the blame on regulators of wholesale power markets, such as ISO New England, who have under-valued “grid reliability and resiliency benefits provided by traditional baseload resources, such as coal and nuclear.”

Coal and nuclear power plants have the capability of storing fuel on site so they can keep running even if supplies are disrupted temporarily. “The continued loss of baseload generation with on-site fuel supplies, such as coal and nuclear, must be stopped,” Perry said. “These generation resources are necessary to maintain the resiliency of the electric grid.”

Perry’s letter comes at a time when New England states are moving away from coal and nuclear power plants and trying to shift to renewable forms of energy. Indeed, much of the energy debate in Massachusetts has been focused on whether the longer-term transition to cleaner forms of energy can be accomplished without increasing the region’s reliance on natural gas.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The ISO-New England said in its statement that the wholesale market for electricity that it oversees has been effective in keeping the lights on while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and wholesale power prices. The ISO said it favors, “whenever feasible,” allowing the competitive market to determine which power plants should run.

“Providing full cost recovery for certain technologies and not others will ultimately undermine the competitive wholesale market construct,” the ISO said in its statement. The grid operator said it plans to file comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission supporting its market-based approach.

  • NortheasternEE

    Renewable energy already undermines the competitive wholesale market with private power purchase agreements (PPA) at above market prices mandated by state and regional authorities to reduce carbon emissions. The present push to mandate 100% renewables by 2050+ is sending strong signals to baseload coal and nuclear power, that the wholesale market, they depend on, already reduced by renewables will eventually disappear. The clean energy benefits of killing coal are negated by the killing of clean energy nuclear for a net reduction in GHG emissions close to zero.

    Environmental groups are gambling that by forcing the grid into 100% operation with variable and intermittent power, from wind and solar, with 100% firming from natural gas, a system that avoids little to no GHG, will eventually lead to a system of wind, solar, and hydro with mass energy storage firming replacing natural gas.

    Perry is trying to make state authorities reconsider the forced march to 100% renewables. There is a clear and present danger that if the mass energy storage technology fails to be economically developed, or its development is long in arriving, we will have to live with an unreliable grid indefinitely.

    Furthermore, while promising to reduce rates, because wind and solar are free, the opposite is true. Countries and regions with renewable penetration of renewable energy of 10%+ are experiencing huge rate increases two to three times what we pay.

    There is a strong possibility that the transition to a clean energy future will result in skyrocketing rates for nothing in return. Without the development of mass energy storage, we cannot stop Global Warming.

    • Andrew

      Nuclear has to be subsidized by the government way too much. They can’t even get insurance and have special max payout limits by congress if they melt down. They are on life support at taxpayer expense. Waste. I’d keep a coal plant here and there for emergency backup or retrofit current natural gas plants to burn coal in an emergency.