Exercise simulating extreme cold weather and energy shortages helps the ISO, region’s utilities prepare

Justin Shumaker, a lead business analyst in the ISO’s System Operations and Market Administration Department, speaks at the event.

ISO New England and the region’s electric utilities demonstrated how they would work in close coordination to navigate potential winter energy shortages during a tabletop exercise held last week in Westborough, Massachusetts.

Participating in the tabletop were representatives from Central Maine Power, Eversource, National Grid, Rhode Island Energy, United Illuminating, Unitil, and VELCO. Officials from all six New England states, as well as federal and regional agencies, observed the exercise.

Mallory Waldrip, lead energy security analyst, explains the ISO’s 21-Day Energy Assessment Forecast and Report.

“While this type of emergency is unlikely, it would be profoundly impactful and close coordination between all involved entities is paramount,” said Peter Brandien, ISO New England’s vice president of system operations and market administration. “Through exercises like this tabletop, ISO New England and the region’s utilities can work together to better understand how to best respond if these conditions materialize.”

In the past two years, four out of seven ISOs and RTOs in the U.S. have resorted to controlled outages because extreme weather led to limited energy supplies. In New England, a winter energy shortfall, which involves several days of inadequate fuel supplies in the region, would present different operational challenges than capacity deficiencies that have been more common historically and typically involve just peak hours.

Jonathan Gravelin, manager of control room operations, speaks at the event.

The tabletop exercise brought together both operations and communications personnel from the ISO and the regional utilities to explore a scenario similar to the winter of 2017-2018, when two weeks of extreme cold strained the supply of fuels used to generate New England’s electricity. During the exercise, which by design represented an extreme case under these conditions, representatives of the ISO, transmission owners, and local distribution companies described steps they would take to:

  • Forecast a possible energy shortfall using the ISO’s 21-Day Energy Assessment Forecast and Report
  • Mitigate the impact of the shortfall by urging generators to stock up on stored fuels, making public appeals for energy conservation, and other measures
  • Protect against widespread and long-lasting damage to the regional electric grid by conducting controlled outages if other efforts are unsuccessful
  • Keep the public, government, and energy industry informed at each stage of the emergency

Observers were able to ask questions throughout the exercise, and each participating organization was able to learn valuable lessons about how to improve processes and procedures heading into this winter.

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energy adequacy, lng, natural gas, weather, winter