Market innovations, grid reliability support decarbonization goals, ISO-NE VP tells Atlantic Council panel

Market innovations and maintaining the regional grid’s reliability support the transition to clean electricity, ISO New England’s Anne George told participants in a recent panel discussion for veterans seeking jobs in the energy industry.

The Aug. 3 session, “Achieving Carbon-Free Electricity,” was part of Veterans Advanced Energy Week—a conference on careers in advanced energy the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center hosts for veterans, reservists and military spouses.

Anne, vice president of External Affairs and Corporate Communications, told the panel that ensuring reliability goes hand-in-hand with the goal of creating a carbon-free economy.

“You’re going to lose momentum toward decarbonization if you start to have major reliability concerns,” Anne said.

Challenges and solutions

In keynote remarks, Miranda Ballentine, CEO of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, outlined the challenges in meeting goals that call for eliminating carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Getting there, she said, involves cutting carbon emissions from all sectors of the economy. But focusing on the energy sector offers an efficient path forward.

“In many ways, decarbonizing the electricity system is the easiest in this complex puzzle of decarbonizing the economy,” Ballentine said. “But that is not at all to say that it is easy.” There are still a number of obstacles, she said, from barriers in public policy and the markets to business concerns.

Anne said that while the markets have succeeded in shifting New England’s generation mix toward a cleaner, more efficient set of resources—carbon dioxide emissions in the region fell by 42 percent from 2001 to 2019—states are feeling pressure to do more as 2050 looms.

“So now it’s really trying to take that carbon intensity and value it in the wholesale markets, and that’s been the challenge,” she said.

Net carbon pricing is one market-based solution the ISO is studying. The tool shows promise in minimizing price impacts for consumers while creating incentives for wholesale customers to buy electricity from renewable resources—all while ensuring reliability.

Anne said other solutions to the decarbonization puzzle may be found in forward clean energy markets—an approach the ISO is reviewing that would facilitate regional purchases of clean energy—and in changes to the capacity market, to remove barriers for renewable resources. 

Federal investment

The panelists also discussed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill before Congress. The legislation includes $65 billion for the nation’s electricity grid—spending The New York Times called “the single largest federal investment in power transmission in history.”

It’s an investment that is crucial in harnessing the power of renewable resources.

“Offshore wind is coming on strong,” Anne said, but potential developments rely on new transmission networks to tie them into the grid.  

There are “huge challenges ahead” in decarbonizing the economy, Anne said. But those working to solve them are moving in the right direction, without losing sight of the need to maintain the regional electricity grid’s reliability.

Joining Anne on the panel were Mark Goodwin, President and CEO of Apex Clean Energy; Tim Hade, founder and Chief Operating Officer of Scale Microgrid Solutions; and Bob Yeager, President of Power and Water Solutions for Emerson Automation Solutions.

A video of the discussion is available via the Atlantic Council’s YouTube channel.

Inside ISO New England