Reliance on natural gas expected to grow

THE OPERATOR OF THE NEW ENGLAND power grid said on Thursday that demand for electricity will remain fairly flat over the next decade, but warned that the region will become more reliant on natural gas to meet its power needs.

The grid operator, ISO-New England, said in its 2017 system plan that the region’s growing reliance on natural gas and its inadequate pipeline capacity raise reliability concerns that “remain particularly critical during peak winter demand conditions.” Later this fall, the ISO is expected to release what it describes as a fuel security study, which many believe will make the case for the need for more gas pipelines coming into the region.

The report, unveiled at a conference at the World Trade Center, broke little new ground, but it came at a time when environmental advocates are pushing for dramatic changes in the way the region produces electricity. Some are pushing for carbon fees. Others are calling for a shift to 100 percent renewable energy. None of the advocates want to see the region increase its reliance on fossil fuels, and many of them have begun targeting Gordon van Welie, the president of ISO-New England, accusing him of being biased in favor of natural gas.

The ISO report spells out how difficult it may be to wean the region off of natural gas. The report said natural gas-fired plants represented 44.5 percent of the region’s generating capacity in 2016, a percentage that is forecasted to rise to 56 percent by 2026 as gas plants replace coal, oil, and nuclear plants that are shutting down.

The report forecasted that demand for electricity will be stagnant over the next decade, in part because of energy efficiency efforts and growth in solar power installations. Solar’s contribution to the energy mix is forecasted to grow from 1,581 gigawatt hours at the end of 2016 to 6,218 gigawatt hours by 2026, a huge increase. But solar’s share of the region’s overall energy pie is expected to remain relatively small, growing from 1 percent to 4 percent over that time period.
Meet the Author

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.

Randi Soltysiak, a representative of the environmental advocacy group Mothers Out Front, was upset after listening to the ISO presentation on increased use of natural gas. “It certainly sounds like the grid is about to get a whole lot dirtier,” she told the crowd at the conference. She also said it was “morally unconscionable” to increase the region’s reliance on fossil fuels.

“We need to change the direction we’re going in,” she said. “We need to do better. We need to do this at breakneck speed.”

more!