Monday, March 27, 2017

ISO-NE: Little Room for Error in Winter

By William Opalka

The six New England states aren’t an island, but the region sometimes feels that way when it comes to its winter power supply. Although transmission ratings and maximum generation output is higher during the cold weather and peak load is lower, the ability to import power is a major concern.

“Transmission interfaces into New England are going to be loaded up pretty much around the clock every day,” Peter Brandien, ISO-NE’s vice president of system operations, told FERC on Thursday. “Which means that any sort of contingencies … I’ll have to handle with the resources internal to New England.

“People are talking about ramping up their efforts for the winter, but for us, [preparation occurs] throughout the year,” he continued. “I look forward to the time when I can come down here and say that we’re all set and we don’t have any concerns going into the winter. I feel like a broken record every time I’m down here talking about the same concerns.”

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In addition to the familiar concerns over constraints on gas pipelines from the west, he also cited worries about diminished supplies from Nova Scotia. Natural gas supplied 44% of the region’s power in 2014, nearly tripling its share since 2000.

The lack of infrastructure also causes New England prices to be “higher than just about anywhere else,” Brandien said.

ISO-NE will again rely on the winter reliability program it has used for the last two winters, which gives oil generators incentives to secure fuel at the beginning of the winter. Last year, it added incentives for liquefied natural gas. “Hopefully, there will be LNG injections like last year,” Brandien said.

The RTO’s Pay-for-Performance program, which rewards successful generators and penalizes those who fail to meet their commitments, goes into effect in 2018.

Gas-electric communication, “a 12-month project,” has improved in response to FERC orders, he said.

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Peter Brandien, ISO-NE © RTO Insider

The RTO hired a former gas industry veteran to help evaluate gas availability and developed a gas usage tool that scrapes the electronic bulletin boards of the five interstate pipelines serving the region.

This winter, the RTO also will begin allowing generators to change offers on an hourly basis in the day-ahead and real-time markets, improving incentives for following dispatch orders. “We think that’s going to pay dividends to us,” he said.

The RTO’s assumptions for the Winter 2015/16 Forward Reserve Auction included a reserve requirement of 2,363 MW.

“I’m somewhat comfortable that we have insight into all of [the challenges, that] we have the right communication, that we have the right emergency procedures and that we’ll be able to implement any operational actions in time,” Brandien said.

Still, ISO-NE said in its presentation: “[The] loss of any major non-gas unit or significant disruptions in gas supply or pipeline capability will create major challenges for ISO operations.”

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