Grid Reliability Concerns for New England Winter Amid LNG Shortage

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Published On
Oct 26, 2022

Reminiscent of the Texas grid failure in February 2021 and the threat of rolling blackouts in California due to 2022’s hot summer, New England is bracing for power shortages and rolling blackouts in anticipation of the severe winter forecast.

The problem stems from New England’s over-dependence on a single fuel: liquefied natural gas (LNG). The primary fuel for home heating, LNG is also used to generate more than half the electricity in the region. Heating buildings takes precedence over generating electricity in the winter.

The five commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) met to discuss options in response to destabilized energy markets resulting from the war in Ukraine and constraints in pipelines bringing natural gas from other U.S. regions.

New England had hoped to avoid these challenges by transitioning to renewable energy sources as gas plants retire, but approval delays have slowed progress and legal challenges have hindered a planned transmission line to bring hydroelectric energy from Quebec.

Therefore, many clean energy solutions, such as offshore wind, that were expected to supply electricity by now aren’t online yet. Massachusetts is expected to have the 800-megawatt (MW) Vineyard Wind farm up and running next year. A second offshore wind farm, Mayflower Wind, is expected to provide the same amount by 2025.

In the meantime, the grid is considering relying on its historical solution of securing greater supplies of gas. However, FERC chairman Richard Glick said, “Relying on importing LNG just is not a sustainable solution.” That’s truer than ever, because older fossil fuel power plants are being retired faster than new clean energy projects are coming online.

Regional grid operator ISO New England was forced to postpone plans to retire Constellation Energy’s Everett LNG terminal in 2024. As one of only two sources of LNG in New England, it’s needed to supply the grid since there won’t be sufficient renewable energy resources in time to replace it.

In addition, ISO New England has suggested modeling California’s solution of incorporating demand-response. This option offers incentives to residential and business customers to reduce usage during peak demand.

Massachusetts launched demand-response programs in the summer during periods when the grid was stressed. Local utilities piloted a winter version, but it reduced demand by only a small amount, according to Ezra McCarthy, National Grid’s growth development manager of customer energy management for New England, so it has not been widely implemented.

Another option adopted to enhance grid reliability includes energy storage, in which New England has taken the lead, with 20 MW of new grid-scale battery storage projects online since 2015.

In the short term, New England may be forced to rely on LNG as it continues to develop clean energy solutions. According to a statement from ISO New England, “Without adequate gas, the region may not be able to meet the demand for home heating and electricity—and, when reliability suffers, the clean energy transition suffers.”

About the Author

Lori Lovely

Lori Lovely is an award-winning writer and editor in central Indiana. She writes on technical topics, heavy equipment, automotive, motorsports, energy, water and wastewater, animals, real estate, home improvement, gardening and more. Reach her at: Lo...

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