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With natural gas supplies disrupted, Mainers may need to reduce energy use this winter

Maine Public | By Fred Bever
Published December 6, 2021 at 5:34 PM EST

The top official running New England's electricity grid says the region faces a "precarious" winter, in which consumers and businesses may be asked to limit their use of electricity and natural gas to help avert extended brownouts or worse. Gordon Van Welie CEO of the Independent System Operator of New England also says that the region will need more hydro-electricity from Canada to help the transition to a greener grid, whether it gets here via Central Maine Power's contentious energy corridor, or by other routes.

With national and international supplies of the natural gas that fuels the majority of New England's power generation disrupted by the pandemic and other issues, Van Welie says requests for citizens and businesses to reduce energy usage, and even forced brownouts, are real possibilities this winter.

“I think we're feeling more vulnerable,” Van Welie says.

That despite predictions of a relatively mild winter. Extended cold snaps can happen any winter, Van Welie told reporters during a briefing Monday. He pointed to what happened in Texas learned during its extended outages early this year.

“What happened in Texas changed everything. We've not rested well since the February event… we know that we are operating close to the edge here in the wintertime, in particular here New England, we've known that for a long time,” Van Welie says. “I think that what Texas drove home for me is that with almost 15 million people living in this region need to understand is that we are in a precarious position particularly when we get into cold weather."

New England's grid is more robust than in Texas, he adds. But the reliance on natural gas here can escalate quickly when supply chain issues coincide with a cold snap, because fuel dealers are required to deliver first to homes that heat with gas, and power generators are second in line.

This season, ISO-NE is planning to issue energy supply advisories along with 21-day weather predictions and may call on the public to curtail use of both electricity and gas before a cold snap arrives, in order to avert a crisis. ISO system administrator Peter Brandien says the agency may issue advisories similar to summer-time heat-wave messaging that come from utilities.

"Turn down your thermostat so that you're not using as much electricity or gas to heat your homes, don't do as much laundry, try to minimize the amount of cooking you're doing," Brandien says.

He adds that while business energy use declined some early in the Covid-19 pandemic, when workers were sent home en masse, that's no longer the case, with workers at home driving up daytime energy use, even while many offices are now open for business as well.

"[In a cold spell] I don't want to go to Hartford or Boston or something and see all the buildings all lit up, particularly at a time when we're asking for conservation,” Brandien says.

During the briefing, CEO Van Welie repeatedly referred to the role that electricity from Canadian hydro-dams can play as a kind of battery for the New England grid, as it becomes more reliant on other renewable energy, such as wind and solar, which, unlike hydroelectricity, are also intermittent depending in when the wind is blowing or sun is shining.

That's part of what Massachusetts was seeking, he says, when it contracted for a big slug of electricity from Hydro Quebec. He says he was disappointed that Maine residents voted to kill the CMP power corridor that would bring that electricity into the grid. But if it doesn't survive that and other legal challenges.

"I think we'll find other paths,” Van Welie says. “The one thing we're going to have to do is recognize is we're going to have to spend more in order to get these transmission line sited. Because the most part of the objection to the transmission is people don't want to see these lines.  And so if you bury them then you remove that objection but then of course you incur a much higher price tag on the line."

Van Wylie notes, though, that there were a number of objections that were very specific to the CMP line. And overall, he adds, Canadian hydro alone can't solve new England's problems, particularly with electricity use expected to grow radically because governments are moving the economy towards "decarbonization" and increased reliance on renewable electricity sources.



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Comment by Long Islander on December 9, 2021 at 9:03am

New England could see rolling power outages for the 1st time this winter

Comment by Willem Post on December 8, 2021 at 8:08pm

Van Wylie understands the situation very well, as do almost all engineers working for ISO-NE.

The people who do not understand, due to a lack of insight, and who do not want to understand, due to dream-based idiocy picked up in environmental sciences colleges, or, worse, liberal arts colleges, such as Middlebury College.

I have said this for at least 20 years 


SMRs is the way to go all over the US.

Comment by Penny Gray on December 8, 2021 at 7:19pm

Eat raw foods, walk to work, go to sleep when it gets dark and get up when the sun comes up.  Dress in layers. Many layers. Wear a hat to bed, and wool socks, too.  Sleep in  one huge bed and invite the dogs to join you.

Or, consider SMR's.  When is nuclear going to stop being a dirty word?

Comment by Willem Post on December 8, 2021 at 11:06am

The 12 MW floating wind turbine project turnkey capital cost, including grid extension/augmentation from wind turbine to mainland grid would be at least $60 million

Assuming the owners earn 9%/y on their investment, and a 20 year life, the ANNUAL amortizing cost would be $6.478 million

The cost of electricity would be 12.317 c/kWh. This is only the amortizing cost

All other costs are IN ADDITION.

This compares with an average NE WHOLESALE price of 5 c/kWh, which has been the same, starting in 2009 to the present, courtesy of low-cost, low-CO2, clean-burning, DOMESTIC gas plants, and low-cost, near-zero CO2, DOMESTIC nuclear plants, which produce electricity at less than 5 c/kWh

Maine floating offshore

Turnkey, $million


Amortize, $million/y


Turbine, MW




Annual CF


Electricity cost, c/kWh


Comment by Thinklike A. Mountain on December 7, 2021 at 9:32am

Insurrection! Climate Change Terrorists Block DC Rush Hour Traffic and the National Guard Is Nowhere in Sight


Maine as Third World Country:

CMP Transmission Rate Skyrockets 19.6% Due to Wind Power


Click here to read how the Maine ratepayer has been sold down the river by the Angus King cabal.

Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting – Three Part Series: A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE’S WIND ACT


(excerpts) From Part 1 – On Maine’s Wind Law “Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine if the law’s goals were met." . – Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 2010 https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/wind-power-bandwagon-hits-bumps-in-the-road-3/From Part 2 – On Wind and Oil Yet using wind energy doesn’t lower dependence on imported foreign oil. That’s because the majority of imported oil in Maine is used for heating and transportation. And switching our dependence from foreign oil to Maine-produced electricity isn’t likely to happen very soon, says Bartlett. “Right now, people can’t switch to electric cars and heating – if they did, we’d be in trouble.” So was one of the fundamental premises of the task force false, or at least misleading?" https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/wind-swept-task-force-set-the-rules/From Part 3 – On Wind-Required New Transmission Lines Finally, the building of enormous, high-voltage transmission lines that the regional electricity system operator says are required to move substantial amounts of wind power to markets south of Maine was never even discussed by the task force – an omission that Mills said will come to haunt the state.“If you try to put 2,500 or 3,000 megawatts in northern or eastern Maine – oh, my god, try to build the transmission!” said Mills. “It’s not just the towers, it’s the lines – that’s when I begin to think that the goal is a little farfetched.” https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/flaws-in-bill-like-skating-with-dull-skates/

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Hannah Pingree on the Maine expedited wind law

Hannah Pingree - Director of Maine's Office of Innovation and the Future

"Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine."


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