In New England, transmission upgrades soften impact of plant retirements

new england transmission elp

The development of transmission projects in response to generation retirements has helped address reliability concerns in New England, and the increased use of gas-fired generation is presenting challenges that are being tackled, ISO New England said in its draft 2015 Regional System Plan.

The draft plan, which is a comprehensive annual report on the status of the ISO-NE grid and trends for the next 10 years, was discussed at ISO-NE’s annual public forum on Sept. 10.

The region’s power system “is undergoing a major transformation with the retirements of oil, coal and nuclear power plants and the growing presence of natural gas-fired power plants and wind farms,” ISO-NE said in a Sept. 8 statement.

The shifting resource mix is creating new opportunities and challenges as policymakers strive to realize environmental and other public policy goals while ensuring stable power supplies and efficient wholesale markets, the grid operator said.

In the report, ISO-NE highlighted transmission projects that have progressed, with most elements of Central Maine Power’s Maine Power Reliability Program placed in service. Transmission upgrades also are in service in response to the retirement of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and the Salem Harbor power plant. Furthermore, transmission reinforcements are taking place in Rhode Island in preparation for the retirement of the Brayton Point plant, ISO-NE said.

A CMP spokesperson told TransmissionHub in July that the MPRP is “essentially done.”

CMP is a unit of Iberdrola USA, which is a unit of Iberdrola S.A.

The New England East–West Solution for Rhode Island and part of Massachusetts is in service, and the Interstate Reliability Project is under construction, the ISO-NE report pointed out.

NEEWS is composed of four related transmission projects developed by a working group of planners from Eversource Energy, National Grid plc unit National Grid USA, and ISO-NE: the Greater Springfield Reliability Project, Interstate Reliability Project, Rhode Island Reliability Project and Central Connecticut Reliability Project.

The Interstate Reliability Project is a 75-mile, 345-kV transmission line that originates at Millbury, Mass., and terminates at Card Street, Conn. The National Grid USA portion of the project will begin in Millbury, and travel south through Sutton, Northbridge, Uxbridge and Millville in the vicinity of Route 146 into North Smithfield, R.I. It will then travel west to Burrillville, R.I., and into Connecticut where it will connect to a Northeast Utilities line at Killingly. The Eversource Energy project is a 38-mile, 345-kV transmission line that originates at Killingly and terminates at Card Street.

New England transmission owners have placed in service transmission projects throughout the region to improve reliability and reduce congestion, with the ISO-NE report noting that from 2002 to June 2015, 634 projects were placed in service, representing about $7.2 billion in new infrastructure investment.

While gas supplies may be strained and generation retirements take place, public policies that promote energy efficiency and variable energy resources are reducing the need for traditional resources and helping the region meet air and water regulations, ISO-NE said. Several new connections to eastern Canada have been proposed, and, if fully developed, “these ties could bring additional hydroelectric energy into the region and help meet future regional environmental requirements as well as capacity and energy needs,” ISO-NE said.

The increased dependence on gas-fired generation can expose the New England region to significant energy supply, reliability and price issues stemming from limited gas supplies being available and the expected retirements of several coal, nuclear and oil generators.

“Environmental regulations addressing air and water emissions from thermal power plants remain in a state of flux but will likely reduce the operating capability and flexibility of these plants and could prompt additional retirements,” according to the report.

But, ISO-NE is taking a number of actions to confront such challenges. Besides the Winter Reliability Program and enhanced coordination with the gas industry, increased liquefied natural gas deliveries, increased use of oil-fired generation and pipeline expansions reaching new gas supplies can improve conditions in the future. Improved resource performance is expected beginning in 2018 in response to changes in the forward capacity market, which should reduce forward capacity auction price volatility and enhance long-term financial stability for new resources, ISO-NE said.

Touching on capacity needs, the report said the FCA and demand curve helped reduce price volatility, with the ninth FCA procuring 34,695 MW, which was 506 MW greater than the net installed capacity requirement. That installed capacity requirement is expected to grow from 33,391 MW in 2015 to a representative value of 36,000 MW by 2024, which represents an increase of about 290 MW, or 0.8 percent, per year.

Assuming all FCA#9 existing and new resources remain in service in 2018 and beyond, the region would have sufficient resources through 2023, according to the plan.

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