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ISO New England foresees trouble without investment in fuel security

ISO New England, in its 2018 Regional Energy Outlook Wednesday, forecastsfalling net energy demand and a continuing shift toward cleaner powersources, while acknowledging a trend toward lower wholesale power pricesand the likelihood of inadequate fuel supply by winter 2024-25.

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"Currently, the biggest challenge to the reliability of the grid is thelack of fuel infrastructure to supply the fleet of natural gas-firedgenerators, further emission restrictions on oil-fired generation, andthe reality that older oil and nuclear generators are becoming lesseconomically competitive and may retire before the region has addedsufficient new energy sources to replace them," the report states.

The report noted the cold snap that gripped the region from December 26through January 7 featured "constrained pipeline capacity, substantiallyhigher natural gas and wholesale electricity prices," which prompted thedispatch of oil- and coal-fired generation to meet demand, but "oilsupplies at plants around the region began to rapidly deplete ...signficiantly increasing the reliability risk to the system."

"In the coming years as more oil, coal, and nuclear leave the system,keeping the lights on in New England will become an even more tenuousproposition," the report states.

ISO New England in January released its Operational Fuel-SecurityAnalysis report, which included 23 possible future resource and fuelscenarios for winter 2024-25.

"The analysis found that inadequate fuel supply would lead to energyshortfalls in almost every scenario, requiring the frequent use ofemergency actions to fully meet demand or protect the grid," Wednesday'sreport states.

But Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association,noted the analysis "does not contemplate any responses by generators tomarket signals or the soon-to-be-implemented pay-for-performancecapacity-market design."

"Generators have the obligations to meet dispatch instructions, withoutexcuse for non-performance," Dolan said. "This includes making fuelsupply arrangements. The market structures and investments made byresource owners are helping to preserve reliability, competitive pricingand environmental improvements."

PRICES TREND LOWER SINCE 2003

New England generators have played an important role in the trend offalling wholesale power prices as described in the report, Dolan said.ISO New England's average annual wholesale price in 2017 was $33.94/MWh,the report said, higher than $28.94/MWh in 2016, but lower than everyother price since redesigned wholesale electricity markets were launchedin 2003.

Another factor that might have played a role in falling wholesale power prices may be flat to falling energy demand, which the report shows isforecast to slide by 5.6% between 2017 and 2026, after accounting for thegrowth in photovoltaic solar deployments and energy-efficiency efforts. The report notes that ISO New England's generation fleet is undergoing "adramatic shift to cleaner power sources," with coal-fired energy fallingto 1% in 2017 from 16% in 2000 and oil-fired energy falling to 1% from19%, while the gas-fired energy share jumped to 41% from 13% andrenewables rose to 9% from 7%.

Between 2001 and 2016, nitrogen oxides have dropped 73%, sulfur dioxide98% and carbon dioxide 29%, the report states.

Between 2013 and 2021, ISO New England projected more than 4,600 MW ofthe region's capacity is expected to retire, adding that "more than 5,000MW more of coal- and oil-fired generation could be retiring in comingyears because of age and infrequent operation."

Meanwhile, 58% of the 14,800 MW of new generation in ISO New England'sinterconnection queue is wind, 31% natural gas and 11% other, the reportstates.

-- Mark Watson, markham.watson@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com