Generators burned 2m barrels of oil over 15 days

Region’s power grid operator concerned about emissions limitations

FROM DECEMBER 25 UNTIL JANUARY 9, New England power generators burned close to 2 million barrels of oil, which is more than they burned during the rest of 2017 and all of 2016 combined.

Oil is generally not a preferred fuel for producing electricity because it is relatively inefficient at generating power and it produces far more greenhouse gas emissions than most other fuels. Typically, oil is used to produce 1 to 3 percent of the region’s electricity.

Yet an analysis of the regional power grid’s performance during the 15-day cold snap between December 25 and January 9 indicated New England relied on oil to generate more than a third of its electricity, primarily because pipeline constraints pushed up the price of natural gas to levels that made oil a preferred fuel.

The analysis by Vamsi Chadalavada, the chief operating officer of ISO-New England, also indicated the region came dangerously close to running out of oil before temperatures increased. The region began December with 4 million barrels of oil on hand for power generation. By January 1, stocks were down to 3 million barrels; stocks fell to 1.1 million barrels of oil on January 9 as oil-fired plants operated around the clock to meet power demand.

With the heavy use of oil to generate electricity, officials said a number of power generators began to bump up against state emissions limitations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

“The ISO is concerned about the availability of the oil-burning fleet as it relates to emissions limitations on cold days during the rest of the winter,” Chadalavada said in his report.

Wholesale power prices also soared. According to ISO-New England, the so-called day-ahead market cost of electricity averaged $18.7 million a day for the first 25 days of December and then jumped to $68.7 million a day from December 26 through January 8.

The nearly 2 million barrels of oil burned between December 25 and January 9 compares to 900,000 barrels of oil burned in 2016 and just under 500,000 barrels burned between January 1 and December 24 of 2017.

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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.

According to the ISO analysis, the region experienced unusually severe cold from December 25 until January 9.  All major cities in the region had average temperatures below normal for at least 13 consecutive days, and temperatures were 10 degrees Farenheit below normal on seven consecutive days.

Boston was gripped by a cold wave that hasn’t been seen in 100 years. The ISO report said the mean temperature of 15.2 degrees between January 1 and January 8 was the lowest at least since 2000. There were 13 consecutive days with temperatures below 32 degrees and seven consecutive days with temperatures below 20 degrees.

  • Ed Cutting, Ed. D.

    The Governor has the power to declare “a state of emergency” and suspend any law he wishes.

    Extreme cold and the possibility of people freezing to death strikes me as an “emergency.”