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ISO New England: The Challenges Of Meeting Our Region’s Energy Needs


The New England Independent System Operator (or ISO) has a seemingly simple job: to keep the lights on, and the power running.  But behind this goal are the many hurdles of operating the region’s electric grid. Through the peaks of summer air-conditioning and winter cold snaps, the system must remain always ready for spikes in demand. But in recent years, it’s faced many challenges - from the huge rise in reliance on natural gas, to the looming retirement of coal, oil and nuclear plants, to the integration of renewable sources and the enormous infrastructure needed to transmit power.  All of which make the job of predicting energy supply and demand a tricky enterprise, in both the short and long-term for our region. (digital post by Faith Meixell)

New England Grid at a Glance:

  • 6.5 million households and businesses; 14 million population
  • 8,500 miles of high-voltage transmission lines (115 kV and above)
  • 13 transmission interconnections to power systems in New York and Eastern Canada
  • 350 generators in the region
  • 31,000 MW of generating capacity
  • 7,000 MW of proposed generation
  • 3,400 MW of generation capacity expected to retire within five years
  • 28,130 MW all-time summer peak demand set on August 2, 2006
  • 22,818 MW all-time winter peak demand set on January 15, 2004


  • Gordon Van Welie – head of ISO New England, the region’s electric grid operator

Confused about how the power grid works? Check out this explainer from NHPR's Sam Evans-Brown:


  • ISO New England's Guide to the Grid: "Today these driving forces are stronger than ever, and the convergence of economic and environmental policies toward clean, reliable, and efficient electricity is leading the power system to a period of significant transformation."
  • A Reuters reporton New England's summer energy supply: "The U.S. New England power grid operator expects to have enough resources to meet peak electric demand this summer when business and homeowners crank up their air conditioners to escape the heat."
    Credit ISO New England
    Changes in New England's fuel mix from 2000-2013

  • An NHPR report on ISO New England's 10-year plan presented last fall: "Right now, New England is swimming in capacity: we have more power plants than we really need, but we are very short on flexibility, a lot of older coal and oil power plants take a long time to turn on and come up to speed, so in the next five years ISO is going to start paying more for plants that can come online fast, and less for just straight capacity."

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