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Environmentalist-backed report questions New England's winter fuel crunch


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Environmentalist-backed report questions New England's winter fuel crunch

A new report used ISO New England data to undermine the grid operator's repeated warnings of regional fuel insecurity during winter cold snaps.

The report,"Understanding ISO New England's Operational Fuel Security Analysis," was developed by environmental consultants Synapse Energy Economics at the behest of the Sierra Club, Conservation Law Foundation, Acadia Center, New Hampshire Office of the Consumer Advocate and others. It challenged the ISO-NE's claims that the northeast U.S. faces the risk of blackouts under nearly every scenario for winter 2024/2025 as a result of constraints in natural gas supplies and slated retirements of power plants.

After looking at an updated ISO-NE analysis requested by stakeholders, the new report said that New England is already on track to ensure grid reliability during even the coldest winters despite the initial findings of a report the grid operator issued in January.

The ISO-NE is "wrong by their own numbers," said Mark Kresowik, a deputy director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, in an interview. "There is no crunch. There is no fuel security problem in New England."

"The electric system will be perfectly reliable without any blackouts under ISO New England's own model," said Kresowik. "This report just packages up ISO New England's own results, which they aren't sharing with anybody."

Kresowik said ISO-NE's updated analysis, which was uploaded on the grid operator's website, found "current levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy [as] planned by the state in New England will deliver a reliable electric system without increasing costs to consumers."

Furthermore, Kresowik noted that the original ISO-NE scenarios wrongly assumed the "maximum" level of future onshore wind energy would be less than the amount of wind on the system today. Instead, he said ISO-NE's "own numbers also show that the more renewable energy you add, the less a [reliability] problem there is."

ISO-NE spokesman Matthew Kakley denied that the regional transmission organization changed its analysis conclusions and noted that the analysis "was not a study about natural gas pipelines."

"Our study came up with a range of scenarios based on trends we have seen develop in our markets, as well as our experience operating the region's power system," said Kakley in an email. "Following the release of our study, we offered to model other scenarios based on different assumptions presented by stakeholders. These groups are referencing these additional scenarios, which are based on their view of the trends in the region."

As the independent entity responsible for ensuring the reliability of New England's electric grid, Kakley said ISO-NE used its own data and information to reflect a range of future bulk power system configurations that it believes presents an accurate view of regional trends.

"The report was intended to get the region focused on the issue of fuel security and come up a path forward," said Kakley. "We are now on that path."