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New England Power Grid Operator Not Expecting New Gas Pipelines To Be Built

ISO New England

  The operator of the electric power grid in New England issued its annual assessment today.

   The grid is foundationally strong but remains vulnerable to fuel supply shortages, according to Gordon van Welie, the president and CEO of ISO New England, the Holyoke-based nonprofit that oversees the electric power generation and transmission system for the six New England states.

   "The region's resource mix is shifting towards less on-site fuel and  more resources subject to natural gas availability and changes to wind and sun," said van Welie.

    In a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning, van Welie pointed to the grid’s reliability in delivering uninterrupted power during last winter’s two-week cold snap and the heat waves of last summer.

    This winter has been relatively mild and has presented no serious challenges for the power grid, he said.

    As in previous annual reports, van Welie warned about vulnerabilities to electricity generation in the region as fuel sources shift from coal, nuclear, and oil to natural gas, solar and wind.

   "New England's grid is undergoing rapid change," he said.

    The risk of shortages is greatest in the winter when natural gas is needed for heating buildings and there is less solar generation.

    Asked if he thought there would be natural gas pipeline expansion in the region, van Welie said it is not likely.

      "I do not think we are going to see any significant pipeline expansion into the region and our view is we have to operate with what we have," said van Welie.

      Demand for electricity has been declining for several years because of energy conservation measures and more rooftop solar arrays on individual buildings -- there are now about 160,000 rooftop solar installations.

     Van Welie predicted that in the next decade, demand for electricity would increase as more electric vehicle charging stations come online.

     Eversource marked a milestone in carbon-free energy this week when the utility company reported it had connected two more solar facilities in Springfield to the grid. 

     The company has constructed 19 large-scale solar farms in Massachusetts capable of producing 62 megawatts of electricity.

    When the final two installations go online later this year, Eversource will be at its currently allowed solar generation limit of 70 megawatts.

     The company wants to build more solar facilities, according to spokeswoman Priscilla Ress.

     " We are certainly looking into it. There is currently legislation and we have said we are thinking of building as high as 1,000 megawatts more of solar power," said Ress.

     Three of Eversource’s solar farms are located in the city of Springfield. The city collects about $1 million a year in property taxes from the three locations.

      The company’s first solar facility was built in Pittsfield in 2010.

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