Environmental Advisory Group discusses emissions trends

ISO New England’s Environmental Advisory Group (EAG) teleconference met on January 29, 2019, to update stakeholders on the status of environmental regulations of interest to New England, regional and national trends in greenhouse gas emissions, and the Draft 2017 ISO New England Electric Generator Air Emissions Report (Emissions Report). Representatives from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the New England States Committee on Electricity, Connecticut and Massachusetts regulatory agencies, conservation groups, consulting companies, and the ISO participated. Here are some highlights.

Draft Emissions Report

The ISO’s draft Emission Report provides a comprehensive analysis of nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the region’s electric power generators for the 10-year period from 2008 to 2017 and reviews relevant system conditions. Stakeholders can read a summary of the draft report here.

Regional carbon emissions down; NOX and SO2 emissions up

The 2019 Annual Energy Outlook, published by the US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows decreased SO2 and NOX emissions nationwide from 1990 to 2017, corresponding to the years when various federal emissions-reduction programs went into effect. The latest EPA and ISO data show that SO2 and NOX emissions increased from 2017 to 2018, partly attributable to changes in weather, economic growth, energy prices, and the fuel mix. EIA forecasts that New England’s regional emission levels will not significantly change over the next few years.

According to the EIA, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increased nationwide by approximately 3% in 2018, also due to economic growth but also an uptick in the use of natural gas and oil to generate energy. Data from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) also showed an increase in CO2 emissions from the nine RGGI states, although emissions from the RGGI states in New England declined by 2.79 mton from 2017 to 2018. RGGI’s 82.2 million short ton (mton) CO2 emissions cap for 2018 covered 20% of the total emissions from all states and all sectors. New England’s share of the cap was 28.5 mton. RGGI’s next auction of carbon allowances will be on March 13, 2019. More CO2 news is that 10 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states are developing a “RGGI for Transportation,” called Transportation and Climate Initiative, which aims to propose a low-carbon policy for capping and reducing carbon emissions from the combustion of transportation fuels.

ISO data for 2016 to 2018 show the CO2 prices ($/megawatt-hour) added to energy production costs for each fuel type, as well as the average cost of CO2 emissions and the average proportion the emissions cost were of each fuel’s total energy costs. Carbon pricing initiatives in neighboring Canada and New York were summarized.

As a result of Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act, net energy output from affected generators declined by 2.3 gigawatt-hours from 2017 to 2018; the approximate 7.6 million metric tons (MMT) emitted in 2018 was below the 2018 cap of 9.15 MMT.

Environmental rules could rollback

In December 2018, EPA proposed a rollback to the way the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard—which limits mercury and other toxic pollutant emissions from existing coal- and oil-fired generators—analyzes hazardous air pollutant emissions. Another proposed EPA revision is to the performance standards governing CO2 emissions from new and modified coal-fired generating plants. The agency also is finalizing a replacement for the Clean Power Plan that would incentivize efficiency upgrades to coal-fired generators, a measure anticipated to have limited impact in New England because less than 1,000 megawatts of coal capacity remains in the region.

Updates to several other rules covering coal, natural, gas, and nuclear generation were summarized, and national and regional data were presented for 2018 capacity retirements, the 2019 capacity change forecast, fossil fuel deliveries, energy generation, power generation water withdrawals and consumption, and load-weighted real-time marginal units.

EAG Role

The EAG assists the Planning Advisory Committee (its parent committee), the Reliability Committee and associated , and ISO New England with several tasks. It tracks and evaluates federal, state, and regional environmental regulations and legislation that could affect the reliability and operation of the region’s future power system, and it develops and updates environmental studies of the power system.

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