My Turn: The missing signatures on a letter to ISO-NE president

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My Turn: The missing signatures on a letter to ISO-NE president

For the Monitor

Published: 7/25/2020 6:00:24 AM

Not for nothing, late last year a super majority of New England’s U.S. senators wrote Gordan van Welie, president and CEO of the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO-NE).

ISO-NE runs the region’s wholesale electricity markets. It operates the grid. As it happened, its regulator, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, had previously directed the ISO to file changes to its energy-security markets by April 2020.

In their letter to van Welie, the senators excoriated him for ISO-NE’s pursuing “a patchwork of market reforms aimed at preserving the status quo of a fossil fuel resource mix” in the Forward Capacity Market for winter grid reliability and in the Inventoried Energy Program for fuel security.

Van Welie had ignored the New England states’ objective to decarbonize the bulk power system – the wholesale markets – after agreeing more than three years earlier on a “process to discuss how to integrate climate change policies” into electricity markets under ISO-NE purview.

Van Welie responded to the Senate delegation in a long, ISO-aggrandizing letter. First, he declared ISO-NE kept the lights on while “achieving” dramatic emission reductions in New England’s electricity markets over the past two decades. But the market accomplished the reductions when lower costs for natural gas all but ended coal burning – the greatest greenhouse gas emitting fuel for generating electricity. Any other cuts then were born of state driven energy efficiency standards, and demand response and renewable energy programs.

In their letter, the senators saw red over recent market rule changes forcing “state-sponsored renewable energy to wait for incumbent fossil fuel generators to retire” before allowing clean resources into the capacity market and the Inventoried Energy Program.

On this matter van Welie asserted that the cost for ISO-NE’s fossil fueled reliability services reflected wholesale market prices, but he ignored the point that those services would prove a waste of ratepayer funds on obsolete technology with impending stranded costs. Never mind tons more atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions through March 2025.

Van Welie went on to boast of ISO-NE’s national and international recognition for its demand resources platform for integrating energy storage, energy efficiency, demand response, and other distributed resources into its wholesale markets. So, why did the grid operator deploy so few of these resources in its Forward Capacity Market and Inventoried Energy Program? Because under FERC cover, ISO-NE can excuse and justify the burning of fossil fuels to benefit its investor-owned utilities instead.

Otherwise, the region’s Forward Capacity Market is renowned for its cost and convolution. Even van Welie sees it as a “second-best solution.” So, he reminded the senators of his earlier advocacy for adopting a “carbon price” to spark a clean energy transition.

ISO-NE has squandered an 11-year opportunity to end fossil fuel emissions under the market-based Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and failed. Now, with the polar ice caps melting after a 40-year scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels warms the globe, van Welie thinks it’s time for a carbon tax to spark clean energy?

Last month FERC ruled in favor of ISO-NE’s Inventoried Energy Program.

Both senators from Massachusetts, both senators from Connecticut, both senators from Rhode Island, one senator from Vermont, and one senator from Maine signed the letter to van Welie.

Neither Sen. Jeanne Shaheen nor Senator Maggie Hassan consented. New Hampshire was the only New England state without a signatory to the delegation’s letter.

I voted for both Sen. Shaheen and Sen. Hassan in every statewide Senate and gubernatorial election they ran. It seems farfetched to me that either does not grasp the urgency of the climate crisis and the harm from the ISO-NE fuel security initiative. But dialing for dollars year after year can cloud a person’s conscience.

We are not bound to the ISO-NE market.

And having a willing U.S. senator lay the groundwork to lead New Hampshire out of this electricity market and into one that uses clean energy could help.

(Terry Cronin lives in Hopkinton.)

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