This group gathered in town on weekends to protest a second power plant in Killingly. Photo taken by the author.

For many in my community and other communities around the region, the impact of grid operator ISO-New England’s often abstruse rulemaking can be all too real. I have lived most of my life in Killingly, a lower income town with high asthma rates in northeastern Connecticut. We already have one large 20-year-old gas power plant here, with a second large plant having been proposed on a site roughly a mile from the first.                     

Despite what one might hear from the gas industry, these plants are major polluters. We know that living near a gas power plant increases the likelihood of developing heart and lung disease, especially for the elderly and young. If the second project were to be built, both my young children and the other children in our town would be attending nearly all their schooling in close proximity to these two large plants. My mother-in-law is one of many in town who suffer from asthma, with which she was recently hospitalized. The pollution from a second large power plant could certainly exacerbate her ailment. 

ISO-New England, our region’s grid operator, conducts auctions that determine which power generators will get a secure portion of financing in exchange for guaranteeing they can provide a certain amount of power (capacity) to our electrical grid. This exchange is called a Capacity Supply Obligation or CSO. Companies like the one proposing the new Killingly plant find it critical to win a CSO in ISO-NE’s auction in order to secure adequate financing to justify building, and often maintaining, a power plant. 

In the most recent auction, the developer of the proposed Killingly plant was unable to maintain their previously awarded CSO or attain a new one. Now, we await a final retraction of their proposal. That said, we still have concerns that these sorts of fossil fuel power plants are way overrepresented in ISO-NE’s auction, despite their effects on the climate and public health. These plants especially impact lower income communities and communities of color where such projects are disproportionately sited.

With all this in mind, it was deeply disappointing to see the recent failure by ISO-New England to request the roll back of the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR) ahead of next year’s auction, after a late stage amendment introduced by members of the gas industry. It is even more disappointing that our state has not opposed this delay.

This rule has privileged fossil fuel projects over renewables competing in ISO-NE’s auction, making it much easier for power plants to win the CSO needed to get built or keep operating. ISO-NE’s desire to postpone rolling back the MOPR is questionable given they have been aware of significant concerns around the exclusion of renewables and the artificial propping-up of fossil fuel power plants for at least ten years. Last year, ISO-NE said they would finally fix the rule but changed course and delayed their request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it without any explicit demonstration of why the MOPR needed to remain in place. The MOPR has likely prevented renewable energy projects from being built, along with passing on some of the costs of unnecessary power plant projects to ratepayers.

Despite previously advocating to get rid of the MOPR and act on Connecticut’s ambitious climate goals, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration has not taken a stand against this decision. One starts to wonder if this failure is more about maintaining reliability or the profit margins of energy companies. Have ISO-NE officials not registered the desperate pleas for action by U.N. climate scientists in the latest IPCC report, or missed all the truly terrifying global climate events of the past year? Closer to home, excessive rain, heat waves, hurricanes and sea level rise have already started hurting Connecticut’s critical infrastructure, economy, and public safety.                                                                                                          

We know wind turbines and solar panels, when paired with batteries or other clean energy storage, are cost competitive and reliable alternatives to fossil fuels. Scientists and engineers have made amazing strides in developing these clean energy technologies. Now it is time for our state to hold ISO-NE accountable, and make sure that we are able to grow the share of renewables in our regional energy market. Even though the Killingly plant looks less likely, the MOPR rule is still in place causing unnecessary pollution, binding us to volatile fossil fuel prices, and undermining our needed transition to a clean energy economy. Connecticut residents deserve better. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which oversees ISO-New England will soon decide on the MOPR. Governor Lamont and other New England Governors have the power to urge FERC to reject ISO-NE’s request for delay. You may have never heard of ISO-New England or the Minimum Offer Price Rule, but they both have a significant impact on the health of our families and planet. Our Governor must urge FERC to end the MOPR immediately. It is the right thing to do and we can ill afford to wait.

Ian McDonald is a climate activist living in Killingly.