Despite generation retirements and the possibility of fuel constraints for natural gas-fired generation, ISO New England should have plenty of generation capacity this winter, the independent system operator said Monday, and at least one industry observer concurred.
"As [the] ISO has noted, there is more than adequate capacity to meet reliability today and moving forward," said Dan Dolan, New England Power Generators Association president, in an email.
If New England has a normal winter with temperatures of about 7 degrees Fahrenheit, the ISO should have a peakload of about 21,340 MW, compared to an all-time winter peak of 22,818 MW on January 15, 2004, according to an ISO New England media statement.
To meet that demand, ISO New England has 31,101 MW of capacity committed in its Forward Capacity Auction for this period, and if all generation including that which did not clear in the FCA, total available capacity could reach 33,948 MW, the ISO said.
The National Weather Service's November 30 forecast calls for elevated chances of above-normal temperatures in New England in December, January and February. This past winter was relatively mild, with a peakload for the period of 19,545 MW on February 14.
This winter's reserve margin -- excess capacity as a percentage of expected peakload -- would be 45.7%, down from last winter's 47.4%, but up from 41.5% in the winter of 2014-15 and 40.1% in the winter of 40.1%.
Dolan noted that ISO New England's "competitive market as helped drive 2016 to the lowest wholesale electricity prices since at least 2003."
In an extreme situation, with temperatures of about 2 degrees F, ISO New England peakload could hit 22,028 MW, the ISO said.
Therefore, the ISO has implemented a Winter Reliability Program, which creates incentives for natural gas and oil-fired plants to procure sufficient fuel before winter begins, covering the months of December, January and February. This includes provisions for oil inventory, LNG and demand response, the ISO said.
However, in recognition of possible natural gas pipeline constraints, ISO New England acknowledged that 3,450 MW of that capacity is "at risk of not being able to get fuel when needed." About 14,850 MW of New England's generating capacity mainly uses natural gas as fuel.
The Algonquin Incremental Market Project's recent completion added 342,000 dekatherms of natural gas delivery, and Dolan said that because of this, "we expect to continue to see highly competitive pricing into the winter months."
As of November 29, the Platts M2M Forward Curve had the Mass Hub December on-peak package priced at $47.95/MWh, and as of December 2, Mass Hub January on-peak was priced at $76.15/MWh, and Mass Hub February on-peak was priced at $74.80/MWh.
In contrast, the actual day-ahead on-peak locational marginal prices for the Northeast Massachusetts-Boston area averaged $26.20/MWh in December 2015, $41.78/MWh in January 2016 and $32.94/MWh in February 2016.
But overall average temperatures may be mild while individual days may experience extremes, according to meteorologists, and on an extremely cold day, heating customers have priority for natural gas over power generation, ISO New England said.
"Despite planning for these anticipated risks, if the region experiences any combination of extreme cold for an extended time, power plant outages, and limitations on natural gas delivery, maintaining reliability could require the use of emergency procedures," said Vamsi Chadalavada, ISO New England executive vice president and chief operating officer, in a statement.
And he expressed more concern about the future.
"Beyond this winter, the situation will grow even more uncertain because non-gas power plants are retiring and being replaced primarily with new, gas-fired generation," Chadalavada said. "We are currently evaluating how the ISO will maintain reliability in the future under these conditions."
But Dolan expressed more confidence that the industry would meet demand as needed, given ISO New England's robust Forward Capacity Market and increasing efficiency among generators.
"In light of recent power generation retirement announcements, over 4,000 MW of new plants have cleared in recent Forward Capacity Auctions and are under construction or development today," Dolan said. "These plants are some of the most efficient and clean burning facilities in the country. The existing generation fleet doesn't lag far behind."
Since Massachusetts passed electricity restructuring in 1997, generation efficiency has increased nearly 25%, Dolan said.
"That means it today takes three plants to produce the energy it used to take four," Dolan said. "Intense competition has driven 2016's prices and the region's generation efficiency gains."
--Mark Watson, Markham.firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Richard Rubin, email@example.com