ISO-NE president details clean energy transition in Congressional hearing on grid reliability

ISO New England President and CEO Gordon van Welie on Thursday described for members of Congress the elements necessary for a clean and reliable future power grid.

Joining executives from other Regional Transmission Organizations, van Welie testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy, Climate, and Grid Security in a hearing titled “Powering America’s Economy, Security, and Our Way of Life: Examining the State of Grid Reliability.” His written testimony is available on the subcommittee’s website.

“We are transitioning to a power system that will have to meet a doubling of average demand and a tripling of winter peak demand by 2050,” van Welie said. “Moreover, this demand must be met with a resource mix where the majority of resources have variable production characteristics or are energy constrained under certain conditions.”

He continued, “Our challenge is figuring out how much energy we will get from this evolving fleet of resources, how to ensure reliability through the wholesale market design, and how to plan the transmission system.”

The ISO recently collaborated with the Electric Power Research Institute on a probabilistic analysis tool for studying energy security risks posed by extreme weather. Study results have indicated risk to the region will grow but likely will remain manageable over the next 10 years.

“The study tool provides an early warning system to inform the region on the magnitude of these risks and provides a basis for developing solutions,” van Welie said in his written testimony.

Noting that it is the single biggest source of energy used to produce electricity in New England and across the US, van Welie called greater oversight of the natural gas system “imperative.” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recommended greater oversight in a recent joint report on Winter Storm Elliott, which found that frozen natural gas equipment contributed to controlled power outages around the Southeast in late December 2022.

In New England, there was sufficient electricity supply to meet consumer demand throughout the event, though multiple generators suffered mechanical failures linked to cold temperatures. Natural gas constraints are a recurring wintertime concern for the region, as increased use of natural gas for heating means less of that limited resource is available for electricity generation.

Taking questions from lawmakers, van Welie also expressed support for net carbon pricing, calling it the “most efficient, market-based solution” to incentivize lower emissions while ensuring the region can meet its electricity needs at all times. Net carbon pricing was one of four market configurations examined in the “Evaluation of Pathways to a Future Grid” study commissioned by the ISO last year.

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