By Rich Heidorn Jr.
BOSTON — ISO-NE expects growing energy efficiency and behind-the-meter solar generation to more than cancel out load growth over the next 10 years.
RTO officials outlined their forecasts at a public forum on their draft 2017 Regional System Plan on Thursday.
The forum’s 150 attendees were mostly industry stakeholders, regulators and RTO officials. But there was also a three-woman contingent from Mothers Out Front, a climate change activist group, who pressed RTO planners on the region’s continued reliance on fossil-fueled generation. Carol Chamberlain, of Arlington, Mass., raised concerns about methane leaks in the natural gas supply chain. Randi Soltysiak, of Somerville, Mass., criticized the RTO’s plan for not shifting more heavily to carbon-free sources.
“To me, forming a new 10-year plan around increasing fossil fuels in 2017 is not only irresponsible, but it’s morally unconscionable in the face of the climate destruction that we’re seeing,” she said. “We need to do better. This is New England. They’re [setting 100% renewable goals] in Australia and they’re doing it in California.”
Others in the audience questioned transmission spending and the dearth of storage in the region. The RTO got its first grid-scale battery, a 16-MW facility at Yarmouth Station, last year.
Passive demand resources and energy efficiency are expected to more than double over 10 years to 4,475 MW in 2026. Solar PV, including BTM generation and resources participating in ISO-NE wholesale markets, also is expected to more than double over the planning horizon, from 1,918 MW (nameplate) in 2016 to 4,733 MW by 2026. BTM PV will reduce summer peak loads by 1,035 MW in 2026.
But the RTO expects natural gas to comprise 56% of its capacity by 2026, up from 44% now, said Michael Henderson, the RTO’s director of regional planning and coordination, who gave a presentation on the plan.
Declining Net Loads
Although planners expect the gross peak summer load to grow 1% over the 10-year planning horizon, they forecast net load — including energy efficiency and solar generation — to drop 0.6% per year, from almost 126,800 GWh in 2017 to less than 120,000 GWh in 2026.
The 50/50 net summer peak forecast for 2026 is about 26,300 MW, down 0.6% from 2017. The 90/10 net summer peak forecast, however, rises by 0.5% to more than 29,000 MW in 2026.
Energy efficiency — supported by more than $1 billion in spending annually by the New England states — is expected to reduce the 90/10 net winter peak load from almost 21,900 MW to 20,600 MW, easing concerns over having sufficient natural gas for power generation during the heating season.
Despite declining net loads, the RTO says its net installed capacity requirement will grow from 34,300 MW in 2022 to 35,700 MW in 2026. Barring retirements, New England’s resources would exceed the ICR by at least 1,700 MW throughout the planning horizon.
“However, the region will likely still need to rely on operating procedures that provide load and capacity relief every season from 2018 through 2026, especially under extremely hot and humid conditions, severe winter weather, and during infrastructure-outage conditions of both electric power and natural gas facilities,” the report says. “The region also will likely face additional retirements of aging oil and coal-fired generation.”
The RTO’s interconnection queue has 76 active projects totaling almost 13,000 MW, including 6,400 MW of natural gas, 5,400 MW of wind generation and 77 MW of batteries.
Almost all the proposed natural gas generation is in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, consistent with the plan’s conclusion that “the most reliable and economic place for resource development” remains near load centers in southern New England. About 80% of the RTO’s load is south of Massachusetts’ northern border, Henderson said.
Two-thirds of the wind capacity would be added in Maine, with the remainder mostly offshore projects off the southeast coast of Massachusetts.
The report notes changes in the criteria and inputs used in assessing system needs, including the adoption of NERC transmission planning standards. The RTO also is using a new probabilistic methodology to determine the amount of generation assumed out of service in its base case analyses.
The report includes about $4 billion in proposed, planned and under-construction transmission upgrades. Since 2002, the RTO has spent $12.4 billion to add 714 transmission project components. “With these system upgrades in place, combined with the changes in assumptions to needs assessments … the need for additional reliability-based transmission upgrades, as shown by the steady-state studies of peak load, is expected to decline over the planning horizon. Conversely, generation retirements and studies reviewing system performance, accounting for the integration of nonsynchronous resources and improved load modeling, may drive the need for some additional reliability-based transmission upgrades.”
Future drivers of transmission include integration of large-scale renewable resources and distributed resources, aging infrastructure, adding interchange capability with neighboring systems, and complying with new NERC standards, the report says.
“The overall need for major additional reliability-based transmission projects is expected to decline over the planning horizon. The low growth of net peak load means it no longer is a major driver of the need for new reliability-based transmission projects,” it continues. “The development of [Forward Capacity Market] resources in favorable system locations also defers the need for major new projects.”
The RTO has yet to identify the need for market-efficiency transmission upgrades (METUs), because reliability upgrades have reduced system production costs, particularly out-of-merit operating costs. New economic and fast-start resources also have helped eliminate congestion and uplift costs.
While the study projects sufficient capacity and transmission to meet reliability criteria, it says the limited natural gas pipeline system is a fuel-security risk, especially in winter.
In addition to the presentation on the system plan and a keynote speech by former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the forum included a panel discussion on planning for the “hybrid” grid. (See related story, Ex-EPA Chief Angry but Optimistic Over Climate Change.)
Outgoing ISO-NE Board Chair Paul Levy moderated the discussion, which focused on integrating renewables, storage and other distributed energy resources.
Chris Root, chief operating officer for Vermont Electric Power Co., said his state is showing where the region is headed.
About one-quarter of its typical peak load of 1,000 MW is provided by solar on sunny days. More than 35% of its needs come from in-state run-of-river hydro and hydro imports from Canada and New York. It also has 120 MW of wind, with an additional 30 MW under construction.
“Ninety percent of the time, there is not a single carbon-producing generator running in the state of Vermont,” he said.
But wind output must be curtailed during heavy hydro runoff periods because of insufficient transmission, he said. “There hasn’t been a public policy transmission project yet. Everyone’s scared to be No. 1 on that,” he said.
Stephen Pike, CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said he would like to see “a truly educated and engaged customer base.”
He said that when his organization offered businesses a free feasibility study on adding solar or storage, it could find only 30 takers, well below the 50 it sought. “It’s extremely frustrating,” he said. “Frankly I thought we’d be overwhelmed with requests for assistance.”
Root agreed with the need for more customer education, saying few people know that it takes about 6 acres of PV panels to generate 1 MW. People say, “‘I have six panels on my roof.’ [I say,] ‘Great — you can run a hairdryer.’ A typical women’s hairdryer is 1,500 W. That’s [the capacity of] all the panels on the roof during that time you’re running it.”
Ed McNamara, regional policy director for the Vermont Department of Public Service, predicted consumers will become more educated about the varying cost of power as electric vehicles become more popular.
“Think of how many people you know who know exactly which gas station has the cheapest gas,” he said. “If you’re now moving into electric vehicles, people are going to care about what their rates are.”
Nicholas Miller, senior technical director for GE Energy’s consulting business, said even industry professionals in the U.S. aren’t as informed as they should be. While European engineers have become increasingly comfortable with high renewable penetration rates, in the U.S. “lots and lots of PV starts to get really scary.”
“There are many distribution systems in northern Germany that regularly run at 300% instantaneous [solar] penetration — that is 3 MW of solar for one 1 MW of load. The distribution system looks like a spread-out power plant pushing power onto the grid,” he said. “That makes utility distribution people in the U.S. — including in New England — hair catch on fire. We’ve got a ways to go.”