Report: Current Fuel Trends Put New England At Risk For Rolling Blackouts

Jan 18, 2018

Credit Michael Kappel / Flickr CC

A new report says New England could see rolling power blackouts within a matter of years without more stable fuel supplies.

ISO-New England is an independent nonprofit that manages the six-state power grid. The group studied how fuel supply and demand might play out in those states in the hypothetical winter of 2024 to 2025.

Read the report here.

Spokeswoman Anne George says the study analyzes the impact of a range of factors, from unexpected outages at particular plants, to broader political and economic trends.

The study accounts for the coming closure of fossil fuel-fired and nuclear power plants and the expected addition of more renewable energy to the grid. But George says they did not assume any new natural gas pipelines would be built by the year in question.

"We thought, it doesn't make sense for us to necessarily include anything because we don't really see any activity on that front right now,” she says.

Big natural gas proposals have stalled in recent years, while others are in their early stages.

George says the study shows New England may need that added gas capacity to head off the need for controlled blackouts and other energy conservation measures.

“The cost to mitigate the risk is there,” she said, citing transmission, delivery and power plant upgrades as part of that. “But the cost of inaction is – potentially higher prices in the markets, as well as the reliability risk and potentially increased emissions from having to rely on oil.”

George says the latter problem played out in the recent cold spell, when power plants eased off waning natural gas supplies and switched to backup oil reserves to meet high demand.

ISO will discuss its new analysis with regional utilities and policymakers in the coming weeks.