New England’s energy situation ‘precarious,’ ISO leader says
GOFFSTOWN — Energy supplies, reliability and cost are concerns for many New Englanders. But they don’t inspire insomnia in many.
As president and CEO of ISO New England Inc., however, Gordon van Welie has more reason to be kept up at night than most. ISO-NE oversees the region’s power system.
“I really do think we’re facing some choices in the region,” he said Wednesday afternoon, “some crossroads or forks in the road that we’ll have to figure out which one we want to take.”
Van Welie’s remarks came at a discussion of New England’s power markets and infrastructure, hosted by the New England Council at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
And he was blunt about the seriousness of the challenges, many of which lack easy solutions, that are looming for the region in just a matter of years. Van Welie said New England’s current operating situation is precarious, and it could become unsustainable in extreme cold weather after 2019.
“The ISO does not use words like precarious or unsustainable lightly,” said Peter Howe, a former longtime reporter for the Boston Globe and New England Channel News who moderated the conversation. “Take that seriously.”
If New Hampshire and other local states are in danger of having the lights turn off during a cold snap in just four years, what can be done now?
The answers are not so simple, van Welie said.
Many coal and oil generators have been retired in recent years, and that trend will only continue as more renewable energy quickly comes online, he said. And demand is expected to remain roughly flat over the next decade.
But ensuring adequate supply should be a top priority, Van Welie said. Without sufficient storage mechanisms, the reliability of renewable energy can be variable and dependent on the weather.
At the center of New England’s energy challenge lie two potentially competing aims, van Welie said: achieving energy reliability through the competitive wholesale market, as the system’s framework is set up currently, and reducing carbon emissions. Though the latter goal is a crucial environmental priority, policy steps to achieve it have the potential to disrupt the market structure.