Electricity costs skyrocket along with oil usage
In January, oil was used to generate 12% of New England’s power
THE NEW ENGLAND power grid kept the lights on across the region in January, but at a very high cost financially and in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
The cost of the electricity on the regional wholesale market was $1.4 billion, double what it was in December ($721 million) and almost triple what it was a year ago ($488 million), according to data gathered by the region’s power grid operator, ISO-New England.
The fuel mix used to generate the region’s electricity also changed dramatically in January, with power plants running on oil producing 12 percent of New England’s power. Over the last year, oil’s share of the fuel mix had never risen above 0.9 percent; in January 2021, it was 0.2 percent.
The higher cost of electricity and the higher dependence on oil were both caused by slightly higher demand (the temperature in January was 2 degrees colder than normal) and dramatically higher prices for natural gas, the primary fuel used to produce electricity in the region.
There had been reports on the high cost of natural gas and the elevated use of oil during January, but the latest numbers, while still not finalized, provide a more complete picture of the region’s dependence on fossil fuels in producing electricity.
Natural gas was used to produce 44 percent of the region’s electricity in January, which is the lowest level in more than a year. Unfortunately, far more of New England’s electricity — 12 percent — was produced using oil, which is a dirtier fuel that emits more greenhouse gases.
The rest of the fuel mix in January consisted of nearly 26 percent nuclear, 10 percent renewables, 5.6 percent hydro, and 1.7 percent coal.Gordon van Welie, the president and CEO of ISO-New England, warned in a letter to industry and state energy officials on Monday that the region is walking an energy tightrope with its heavy dependence on natural gas as it waits for offshore wind and other renewables to arrive. He said pipeline constraints often limit the access of power generators to natural gas when the weather is particularly cold, forcing the to depend on other fuels. He said the state faced a dangerous situation in mid-January when a number of the region’s power-generating options were knocked out, and rolling blackouts were avoided only because the weather didn’t remain unusually cold for an extended period.
Current forecasts for February indicate temperatures won’t plunge into the single digits for any prolonged period.