Energy study draws divergent reactions

Energy study draws divergent reactions

Baker still backs ‘additional natural gas capacity’

THE TWO SIDES fighting over whether the region needs additional natural gas pipeline capacity both took comfort on Thursday from a fuel security study by the operator of the region’s power grid. The Baker administration, meanwhile, issued a statement that appeared to fall somewhere in the middle while supporting “additional natural gas capacity.”

The study by ISO-New England examined 23 different scenarios for electricity generation during the winter of 2024-2025 and found that in all but the most optimistic case some sort of emergency action would be necessary. Emergency actions ranged from pleas to the public to conserve energy to rolling blackouts, where certain customers would lose their electricity for a period of time to ease pressure on the grid.

In an interview, the president of ISO-New England, said the report did not assume any expansion of natural gas pipeline infrastructure because his organization believes that is unlikely to happen.

Steve Dodge, the executive director of the New England Petroleum Council, which favors the construction of new pipeline infrastructure, issued a statement saying the study concluded there was more than an 80 percent chance that some or all of New England would face rolling blackouts in the near future.

“Forced, rolling blackouts are something you associate with a Third World country – not modern day New England,” he said. “It would wreak havoc on the economy and New Englanders’ lives.”

David Ismay, a senior attorney in the clean energy and climate change group at the Conservation Law Foundation, said the report’s gloomy outlook is only warranted if the assumptions are taken at face value. For example, he said, some of ISO-New England’s gloomiest scenarios assumed the closure of the Millstone nuclear power station or a natural gas pipeline compressor station for the entire winter. Other scenarios assumed far more retirements of existing power plants. He said all of the scenarios are perhaps possible but highly unlikely.

“It’s interesting, but I don’t know that it has much real-world impact on energy planning,” Ismay said of the report.

Peter Lorenz, a spokesman for the Baker administration, issued a statement suggesting the governor would continue to pursue some additional natural gas capacity.

“Recent cold weather, and the subsequent reliance upon oil, further illustrate the vulnerabilities of the Commonwealth’s energy mix, and highlight the need for the Baker-Polito Administration’s diverse energy portfolio – including the expansion of renewable energy resources like hydropower, offshore wind, and solar, as well as additional natural gas capacity for the New England region along existing routes,” Lorenz said.

Michael Durand, a spokesman for Eversource Energy, lamented the report’s finding that rolling blackouts were a real possibility.

“That’s a statement of great concern,” Durand said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the actions of a few to oppose the expansion of existing natural gas infrastructure have prevented our region from benefiting from the reliability improvement that study after study have shown will result from its expansion, along with more than $1 billion of cost savings.”

Environmental advocates, however, saw little to be concerned about in the ISO report.

Mark LeBel, a staff attorney at the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, cited what he called three major deficiencies in the report. He said it treats demand for natural gas for heating as a constant over the next decade, assumes no growth in onshore wind power in its renewables forecast, and downplays the beneficial impact electricity storage could have on the power grid.

Ismay of the Conservation Law Foundation also said the likelihood of rolling blackouts would be eliminated in many of the ISO scenarios if the region develops more renewable energy (some of which is already in the pipeline) and refuels generating plants that can run on oil twice a winter.

“It looks pretty good to me,” Ismay said of the report. “Our initial take is that the study shows some areas of concern but no real reliability issue for the New England grid for the next 10 years.”

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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.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey, an opponent of pipeline expansion, issued a statement indicating she was not concerned about the ISO report’s findings.

“This study shows the importance of clean energy resources in maintaining the reliability of our electric system,” the statement said. “That is why our state is in the process of procuring large amounts of offshore wind and other renewable resources and continuing to invest in energy efficiency. As we make long-term decisions about our energy future, it’s important that we continue to focus on building a system that is reliable, affordable, and clean.”