ISO-NE Grid Reliability Risks

A grid is only as strong as its weakest generation resource, or regulatory bodies – it can all go wrong in seconds and there’s nothing you can do.

ISO-NE electricity generation is highly dependent on natural gas as fuel, and during the Winter season the priority access to natural gas is given to heating homes rather than solely used for electricity. In the Winter of January 2018 ISO-NE was minutes away from rolling blackouts to keep the grid operational. ISO-NE’s winter reliability program kicked in on time and as natural gas was used for heating, plants began burning oil for electricity, generating approximately 1/3 of all power for a week. Now, after getting up to the pre-blackout point one would expect things to change, but nothing is being done.

Grids require a reliable baseload, which are resources you know can provide a constant output to the grid at any time, as necessary to satisfy demand and maintain balance. Examples of these are nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydro. Nuclear is the perfect fit as baseload given it is the cleanest and is not dependent on the variable costs of fuel, however, in ISO-NE 1 out of the 3 plants has been retired. In addition to this, activists are delaying the construction of critical pipeline and electricity transmission infrastructure, despite being next to one of the regions which produces most natural gas, and close enough to haul clean hydroelectric energy from Quebec.

Another issue to ISO-NE’s reliability is it’s another participant in the international bidding wars for LNG. According to the US Merchant Marine Act of 1920 only ships built, owned, and operated by Americans may trade between two US ports. The US has plenty of LNG available to export, but it doesn’t build any tankers, meaning the LNG for ports can only come from abroad. MA buys its supply from Trinidad & Tobago and therefore is already competing with international markets.

In conclusion, lack of natural gas infrastructure, retirement of nuclear, and difficulty in accessing LNG places ISO-NE at increased risk of an energy crisis.