Van Welie takes energy analysis to Capitol Hill

Says Russian connection for LNG didn’t make much sense

THE OPERATOR OF NEW ENGLAND’S power grid went to Washington on Tuesday to explain why the region is likely to face challenges at times over the next decade keeping the lights on.

Gordon Van Welie, president and CEO of ISO New England, told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that the region will face challenges during unusually cold winter periods when much of the natural gas coming into the six-state area goes toward heating and pipeline constraints prevent imports of more gas.

In the recent cold snap, for example, the price of natural gas skyrocketed to 50 times its normal level and the region’s fuel mix for producing electricity shifted away from natural gas to oil and coal. The region burned nearly 2 million barrels of oil during the 15-day period, more than it burned in the rest of 2017 and all of 2016 combined.

The region weathered the recent cold snap without major incident, but a new study issued by ISO New England indicates emergency measures, including rolling blackouts, are likely to become more likely by 2024.

Gordon Van Welie

Van Welie said New England faces a choice in regard to pipeline constraints. “Do regional policymakers want to make investments to remove those constraints or do they live with the constraints and work around them,” he said.

In his Senate testimony, Van Welie said ISO New England does not expect the region to build new pipeline capacity because of an inability to finance its construction and opposition in New York to more pipelines crossing the state.

Energy state senators pushed back against Van Welie’s approach, wondering why New England would be rushing to import expensive liquefied natural gas from around the world when plenty of relatively cheap natural gas is readily available just a few states away.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia noted that New England imported LNG from Russia during the recent cold weather at the same time the United States was exporting LNG to Europe to meet energy demand there. Capito said the shipping arrangement didn’t make any sense to her.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, either,” Van Welie said. He appeared to blame the problem on the Jones Act, legislation that requires all shipments transported by water between US ports be carried by US-flag ships constructed in the US, owned by US residents, and manned by US citizens.

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.

Van Welie was part of a panel that included Kevin McIntyre, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Bruce Walker, an assistant secretary of energy; Andrew Ott, president of PJM Interconnection; Charles Berardesco, interim president of the North American Electric Reliability Corp.; and Allison Clements, president of Goodgrid LLC, a clean energy consulting firm based in Salt Lake City.

Clements, in her testimony, criticized ISO New England for ignoring the benefits of energy efficiency and electricity storage in its analysis. Van Welie, however, said energy efficiency gains were included; he also said electricity storage, with existing technology, would not be that helpful during a cold snap that lasts longer than a few days.

  • NortheasternEE

    It is Gordon van Welie’s job to keep prices low and the lights on. When the grid crashes and rates go through the roof, Gordon will be the only one to blame.