Rhode Island and New England May Get Hit with Rolling Blackouts in the Future

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


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Older plants are coming offline in New England.

New England’s demand for energy is going to outpace supply within the next few years and that is sparking warnings of serious scenarios in which Rhode Island and the rest of New England can expect blackouts — not just in summer, but the dead of winter.

ISO New England (ISO) is warning that due to a number of large electricity producing plants coming offline over the next few years and the near inability to site energy producing resources in New England, that the issue will become critical.

ISO was created in 1997 to operate regional power system, implement wholesale markets, and ensure open access to transmission lines.

One leading energy expert Meredith Angwin warns that the region’s energy sources are producing more greenhouse gas -- and the supply is less dependent.

“We have a major siting problem, older nuclear plants are coming offline and not being replaced. There are few gas-powered plants being proposed and the region is getting more and more dependent on shipping LNG down from Canada,” said Angwin in a phone interview from her home in Vermont, one of the first women to be a project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

ISO, not a group known for alarmist warnings, identified 23 scenarios of possible future resource conditions — to determine whether enough fuel would be available to meet demand and to understand the operational risks.

The retirements of coal-fired, oil-fired, and nuclear generators—resources with fuel stored on site—“will have a significant impact on reliability and magnify the importance of other variables, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies,” reports the ISO.  While renewable coming online will help to enhance fuel security for the region, the New England states continue to be ever more dependent on Liquid Natural Gas.

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Electricity blackouts are possibility in the next 6 years.

ISO identifies six factors:

Outages: The region is vulnerable to the season-long outage of any of several major energy facilities.

Stored fuels: Power system reliability is heavily dependent on LNG and electricity imports; more dual-fuel capability is also a key reliability factor, but permitting for construction and emissions is difficult.

Logistics: The timely availability of fuel is critical, highlighting the importance of fuel-delivery logistics.

Risk trends: All but four scenarios result in fuel shortages requiring load shedding, indicating the trends affecting New England’s power system may intensify the region’s fuel-security risk.

Renewables: More renewable resources can help lessen the region’s fuel-security risk but are likely to drive coal and oil-fired generation retirements, requiring high LNG imports to counteract the loss of stored fuels.

Positive outcomes: Higher levels of LNG, imports, and renewables can minimize system stress and maintain reliability; to attain these higher levels, delivery assurances for LNG and electricity imports, as well as transmission expansion, will be needed.

The scenarios are predictive of the winter of 2024-2025 — just six years away and they warn that these shortages could hit earlier.

Angwin warns that in some cases the ISO analysis is understated. She says New England’s energy usage is primarily flat but sources are becoming less dependent and renewable sources — wind and solar — are not coming online fast enough.

She echoes the ISO finding the increased LNG is necessary, but says it is not as dependable as some claim.

“Do we really want our regional grid dependent on shipping LNG from Canada in the winter months? LNG tankers in a Nor’Ester is not a great scenario,” said Angwin.

“Another leading source of LNG — Trinidad & Tobago is undependable. What do they say, ‘Those tankers can turn, not on a dime, but on a bucket of dollars? They will deliver to whoever offers the most money, even en route,” she said.

“Yes, I think we will be faced with an unreliable grid— I don’t like to be an alarmist — we are closing plants. More dependent on natural gas. We don’t have the pipelines to have the steady source we need,” said Angwin.

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Solar not coming online fast enough, says expert.

Presently in Rhode Island, some communities are now trying to block large-scale renewable projects that would decrease the dependency on LNG shipping. Grow Smart’s Scott Wolfe and Scott Millar argue in an opinion piece in EcoRI, “Our conservative estimate suggests there are more than 1,000 acres of land where utility-scale solar development has already been developed or proposed. Moreover, a request by the state for proposals for an additional 400 megawatts of renewable energy is scheduled to be issued this summer. If only half of that is ground-based solar, and our existing state renewable-energy subsidies aren’t changed, an additional 1,000 acres of forested land could be clear-cut.”

Rhode Island is now more forested that it has been in over 100 years.

The ISO concludes its 56-page report with significant warnings for the region, "The study results indicate the risk of future energy shortfalls is greater than the risk today. All but one of the 23 scenarios show that the regional power system could frequently experience some degree of system stress, requiring system operators to employ emergency procedures. All but four scenarios show that some level of load shedding would be needed to maintain system balance. This indicates that the region is currently maintaining a delicate balance that could easily be disrupted..."


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