New England electric grid operator predicts declining demand for electricity
Demand for electricity in New England is expected to decline over the next 10 years, even in peak summer demand periods, the region’s power grid operator reports in a new study.
Holyoke, Massachusetts-based ISO-New England released its 2017 Regional System Plan, which details needs of the grid through 2026. The energy forecast contained in the plan predicts total annual use of electricity will decline by 0.6 percent per year, with the summer peak needs declining 0.1 percent annually by 2026 under normal weather conditions.
Gordon van Welie, president and chief executive officer of ISO-NE, said the region’s energy system “is in the midst of a major evolution toward a cleaner, hybrid grid.”
It “will include renewable technologies such as wind and solar, and conservation measures such as energy-efficiency, as well as traditional resources, such as natural-gas-fired generation,” van Welie said in a statement.
But Joel Gordes, a West Hartford-based energy industry consultant, said basing energy demand forecasts on normal weather conditions is unwise.
“The weather we’re seeing now is anything but normal,” Gordes said.
The demand for electricity from the grid also is being driven down by energy efficiency resources such as from the increased deployment of photovoltaic solar panels at homes and businesses, according to the findings of the Regional Plan.
But Connecticut lawmakers are using $177 million in energy efficiency funds to balance the state’s budget over the next two years, Gordes said. Further raids on energy efficiency funding in the future in Connecticut or other New England states could increase demand for electricity in the region beyond what ISO-NE predicts.
New generation sources are needed because by 2020, power plants that collectively produced 4,800 megawatts of electricity will have shut down, either because they are no longer economical to operate or as a result of environmental concerns. Older power plants that either run on coal, oil or nuclear power are likely to be replaced by either natural gas-fired generation or renewable energy sources such as solar or wind.
About 1,918 megawatts of solar power were available in the region at the end of last year, if the generation systems were operating at full capacity. By 2026, the level of soar resource available in New England is expected to more than doubled to 4,733 megawatts. according to the ISO-NE forecast.
About 12,899 megawatts of new generation sources had applied to connect to the regional grid as of April 2017. But ISO-NE official say that, historically, the attrition rate of power producers that apply for interconnection to the grid, but never begin operating, is about 68 percent.
The ISO-NE plans caution that the more use of renewable energy grows, the greater the likelihood there is that more transmission lines will need to be built.
“The most reliable and economic place for resource development remains in southern New England near load centers,” the report states in part.
The region has grown increasingly reliant on natural gas-fired power plants. On any given day in New England, natural gas-fired power plants account for 50 percent or more of the power produced.
That level of reliance on power produced from one energy source is problematic, according to ISO-NE officials.
“The limited availability of the natural gas transportation infrastructure to supply gas to generating units can present fuel-security risks to the region, especially during winter operating conditions,” the plan says in part. ISO-NE is conducting an analysis to quantify the region’s risk and will release its findings next year.
Gordes said more focus should be placed on expanding liquid natural gas storage facilities in the region, so the fuel source would be closer to power plants that use it.