It’s time for power grid to look at benefits of offshore wind

Go-slow approach could be risky

The New England region is home to policies aimed at significant reductions in greenhouse gases. Each of the six New England states has renewable portfolio standards that set targets for how much energy should be procured from renewable sources by a given year. These have grown in recent years as the impacts of climate change have become ever clearer. Connecticut has targeted getting 44 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Massachusetts has similar goals. Several cities in the Commonwealth are going further, targeting 100 percent clean energy within the next 15 to 20 years, a position now being embraced at the state level across the country, including neighboring New York, which is targeting 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2040.

On the heels of the stunningly consumer-friendly price for Massachusetts’ first offshore wind farm, the 800 MW Vineyard Wind project, additional procurements have been made in Rhode Island and Connecticut. New legislative targets are pending that, if passed in total, could see the New England region procuring nearly 12,000 MW of offshore wind energy by 2035. With so much potential renewable energy beckoning, New Englanders deserve to have a clear view of what it could all mean — for our pocketbooks, the environment, and the fundamental reliability of our energy supply. That’s why ISO New England – the region’s electricity system — should study the impacts of a large offshore wind energy infusion. We may learn the economic benefits are so compelling that policymakers push for more wind sooner.

The region’s abundance of offshore wind is coming into focus as a solution for New England’s most pressing near-term and future energy needs just as we continue to pay the price for being at the end of the natural gas pipeline. The potential inability to generate sufficient power in the near future has created some alarm and rise of the term “fuel security” to describe the lack thereof.

The high demand for gas in the colder periods of winter is already resulting in significant costs.  The polar vortex in 2014-2015 added billions in regional electricity costs, which was repeated again recently over just two weeks during the winter of 2017-2018, catalyzing an 89 percent (or $1.23 billion) increase relative to Winter 2017 costs. In 2018, the ISO entered into an over $200 million-per-year contract with the owners of the Mystic Generating Station natural gas plant on the grounds that allowing it and its next-door LNG fuel supply to retire to be too risky for the region. The fuel insecurity faced by the region continues to grow more acute with more non-gas generation, like the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, set for imminent retirement.

It is now critically important that policymakers in the region connect the offshore wind and fuel security narratives. To help illuminate the risks, earlier this week, Anbaric in Wakefield, Mass. submitted an Economic Study request to ISO New England. The request, available here, asks the ISO to perform a new analysis that matches the climate policy goals of the six New England states with the significant and costly energy electric reliability challenges being faced by the region.

Anbaric is asking the ISO to examine the impact of the installation of 8,000 to 12,000 MW of installed offshore wind on (1) energy prices, given that the price of recent offshore wind solicitations will create material cost savings for families and businesses in Massachusetts when compared with continuing to experience price spikes during cold weather event; and on (2) air emissions, given the fact that such a large quantity of offshore wind energy will create significant reductions not only in CO2,  but also other health-damaging emissions such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Finally, the requested study will show the impact of offshore wind on fuel security issues.  Here, the study may show policy makers that a go-slow approach to procuring offshore wind is risky.  Procuring and getting offshore wind in service sooner could help significantly reduce the risk of billion-dollar additions to energy costs when arctic air visits for more than a few days and prevent the ISO from making extraordinarily expensive yearly payments to keep inefficient fossil-fuel generators in service another year.

Meet the Author
While 12,000 MW may sound like a lot, it represents less than a quarter of the region’s energy production needs. Realistically, even more wind, solar, and energy efficiency will be needed to meet the climate goals already set and likely to grow. The sooner we procure those resources, the sooner we can start avoiding the huge, multimillion-dollar extra electricity payments that we’re currently making to simply maintain the status quo.

Edward N. Krapels is the president and CEO of Anbaric, a developer of energy transmission infrastructure.