A recent advocacy piece from the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is riddled with inaccuracies and mischaracterizations. While publishing such pieces may help raise CLF’s profile, it does nothing to help the region understand what it will take to reliably and cost-effectively transition to the clean energy future we all want.
The fallacies spread by CLF and others about the ease in which the region can transition are simply not grounded in reality. Rather, they are detrimental to the honest conversations we need to have about the challenges New England faces in its vitally important clean energy transition. To blame ISO New England for these challenges is scapegoating.
In making these arguments, CLF has often used the fact that the region hasn’t seen widespread controlled power outages as evidence that they won’t happen in the future. This argument is as specious as it is illogical. Texas, which experienced widespread outages in 2021, hadn’t seen the type of power stress they saw until they did. As the region’s electricity supply continues to become more fragile, the past simply is not prologue, and the ISO would be derelict if we did not speak up when we have concerns.
For those not familiar with ISO New England, we are the non-profit entity responsible for maintaining a reliable power system for New England’s 15 million residents. We do this by operating the region’s bulk power grid, administering the region’s wholesale markets, and by planning for the future. We do not own, operate, or develop energy infrastructure and we do not have any financial stake in the electricity markets.
We are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and conduct our work in accordance with federal law, which requires wholesale electricity markets to be open to all types of resources that can generate power or reduce demand, such as energy efficiency.
Over the past two decades, this structure has led to a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions on the power system as newer, more efficient and cost-effective natural gas plants caused coal and oil generators to retire. As the costs of developing renewable energy have come down, its ability to compete in the wholesale market has increased. Renewable energy’s share of the power mix continues to grow each year, and virtually all of the resources looking to connect to the grid are either renewables or energy storage.
To suggest that the ISO is just now focusing on renewable energy ignores the work we have done the last 15 years to enable these resources to become a part of the region’s resource mix; in addition, we have developed new operational and market tools to address the specific needs of renewable resources.
Much work remains, however, in order to reach the region’s ambitious climate goals. ISO New England plays an important role in helping the region achieve these goals, but there are many other public and private players.
The region is confronting difficult decisions on how to best move forward to achieve its clean energy future—one that is reliable and takes costs into consideration. As policymakers look to the power grid to decarbonize the economy, difficult decisions have to be made on how to best site and pay for the transmission infrastructure needed to reliably move electricity around the region. Extreme weather is becoming the norm, so we must all determine and follow through on strategies to best ensure the region has adequate energy available for periods when weather-dependent resource are unavailable.
We all must do this with the knowledge that building large energy projects in this region is difficult. Dating back to Cape Wind and Northern Pass, the region has seen fully-funded large renewable energy projects felled by permitting and legal issues. More recently, offshore wind projects have faced delays, while the fate of a proposed transmission line in Maine remains in doubt.
Ensuring the clean energy transition is reliable will require fresh ideas, compromise, and confronting hard truths. ISO New England looks forward to working with our partners in the New England states, federal government, and the energy industry towards our shared goals. We hope CLF will join us.
Anne George is Vice President, External Affairs and Corporate Communications, of ISO New England.