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Guest MINDSETTER™ Handy: ISO’s Visit & All That Gas

Sunday, December 10, 2017


National Grid

The Providence Journal’s November 26 editorial, “Facing Reality with Natural Gas” (page A18) misses our energy landscape and plan.    

ISO NE’s CEO, Mr. Gordon van Welie, visited our State for a closed session produced by Rhode Islanders for Affordable Energy and the New England Coalition for Affordable Energy.  He reportedly told those privileged to be invited that we should double down on natural gas infrastructure despite our “gas problem.”  ISO runs our region’s electricity markets and transmission (big wires moving power long distances from large generators to consumers) and is expected to remain neutral on supply technologies.  Gordon’s indiscretion offered in a closed meeting exposes ISO’s deep roots in centralized generation and transmission – its board affiliations include ESKOM, Delmarva Power, Connectiv, NV Energy, FL Power & Light, Bewag, WPD, VanZandt Transmission Consulting and Bonneville Power.  ISO has long brought a sledgehammer to a surgeon’s job.  Our transmission rates are double those of the next highest region in the country and are under investigation at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Docket No. EL16-19-000).

Mr. van Welie’s opinion comes as CEO of an organization tasked with securing reliability of the region’s energy system.  Reliability means the ability of the electric system, in all its increasingly diverse elements, on both the demand and supply side, to efficiently meet the demand for energy services to run our homes, businesses, and increasingly, transportation system. That is not how the head of the ISO, whose career has been on the big supply side of the system for decades now, sees things. ISO’s solution to the reliability problems of over-reliance on central station fuel-dependent power plants is more big power infrastructure.  For those who see no problem in over-reliance on imported fuel and vulnerability to supply interruptions, this is no problem—they advocate for more reliability-threatening big power plants.  Moreover, reliability is important, but is not our only concern.  Security, cost and environmental impact are the elements of our energy plan.  ISO’s focus under-accounts for the security, cost-saving and other benefits (e.g., jobs, air quality) offered by local alternatives - demand response, efficiency and distributed generation (DER). Its reliability-based outlook has drastically overbuilt our region’s infrastructure.  Rhode Island’s Power Sector Transformation report (November 2017), informs us that “Rhode Island’s peak to average demand ratio is 1.98, meaning that nearly half of our utility’s capital investment is not utilized most of the time. . .For both Rhode Island’s electric distribution system and New England’s wholesale electricity supply market, the gap between peak and average demand means that capital assets are not fully utilized, increasing costs for customers.” We are reeling from past mistakes of building infrastructure to manage peak demand.  Even if ISO’s CEO should advise us on energy technologies, why would Rhode Island listen?

Gordon van Welie

Our question is not whether “the gas problem will be with us for a long time” – it will, given the outsized role of gas right now.  The question is where we should invest our next energy dollars.  Should we double down on natural gas infrastructure or diversify for security, reduced costs and local benefits like jobs and clean air?  Downplaying our prospects for renewables as a basis for more gas displays superficial understanding of our conditions.  Rhode Island’s DER strategy builds on a strong platform of efficiency and demand response (like time of use rates) with renewables. Managing the way we use energy through efficiency and demand management costs much less and mitigates risk. Along side of local demand resources are a wide range of other smaller, flexible, clean resources that can enhance reliability, reduce costs, and strengthen our economy. These distributed energy resources include solar and wind generation, efficiencies heat pumps, battery storage, electric vehicles, and others. If Mr. van Welie did not address all of our options and opportunities (as the Journal’s editorial indicated), beware of ISO’s sledgehammer.

The Journal, ISO, TEC RI, Rhode Islanders for Affordable Energy and the New England Coalition for Affordable Energy and RIPEC’s “Business Coalition” are invited to actively participate in Rhode Island’s open, expert and stakeholder-driven energy planning processes.  It serves no interest to ignore them and report inapt opinions from closed meetings.

Seth Handy practices law in Providence.

Author’s note:  Once again the ProJo refused to publish this response.  The same day that it posted it's editorial supporting the natural gas power plant it ran an ad saying “Trusted. . .we care about the same things you do…we attend city council meetings and we’re at the State House -- we’re wherever Rhode Islander’s gather.  And then we report back to you  (page C4).”  I have not seen Journal reporters in any of our planning processes for Rhode Island’s energy future. Why do they ask for our trust?  Why does our monopoly utility (not subject to competition) do so much advertising in the Journal?


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Sponsor: GoLocalProv

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25-34: 15%

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