Winter after winter, when the cold weather returns, our regional grid operator, ISO New England, issues dire predictions of an energy crisis. The cause? An overreliance on methane gas for heating and power generation.
Yet, little has been done to move the region away from gas. In fact ISO-NE’s rules continue to favor gas over renewables like wind and solar.
In preparation for this winter, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will host a New England Winter Gas-Electric Forum Thursday with the goal of deﬁning a grid reliability problem that we already know is rooted in our region’s dependence on methane gas.
New England imports all methane gas, misleadingly referred to as “natural” gas, used for electricity generation and building heat. Gas is sent via aging and expensive infrastructure, including pipelines prone to leaks and other harmful incidents, to homes and buildings, and to power plants that further pollute the air as the gas is burned to create electricity.
Moving away from methane gas towards renewable energy at ISO New England and in Connecticut is critical for our state to reach its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, clean our air, and stabilize energy prices. As it currently stands, Connecticut hosts more than our share of power plants and pipelines. Having built more than 40 plants since 1998, our state is home to 54 fossil fuel power plants. Excess dirty energy is produced here and exported to our New England neighbors.
This year, the legislature passed Public Act 22-5 to require that all electricity supplied to Connecticut customers come from 100% zero emission sources. This is a ﬁrst step to addressing the problem with dirty power in our state, but it does not address the excess power we produce which has unjust, harmful consequences.
The health burden caused by air pollution produced at Connecticut gas plants falls disproportionately on low-income areas and communities of color. On top of being inequitable and dangerous, the gas supply chain — from pipeline to power plant — is ripe for disruptions from extreme weather (think: frozen pipes), leaks, accidents (like an explosion of this highly combustible gas), or global crises (Russia’s war in Ukraine).
Connecticut must steer itself and the New England region away from gas. Our state must become a champion for less fossil fuel dependence and more renewable energy. State lawmakers can build on this year’s progress and further strengthen requirements for our electric sector. This looks like a zero-emission target for electricity generation and a commitment to retiring all in-state fossil fuel plants by no later than 2045. These retired polluting plants must be replaced with renewable energy sources like wind and solar that provide local jobs, maintain a ﬁxed cost, and strengthen our grid.
Connecticut must also push ISO New England and FERC to move the region away from fossil fuels. Without clear and ﬁrm leadership from states like Connecticut, ISO-New England is not likely to change.
Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in January 2020 boldly began an investigation into potentially extricating the state from ISO New England’s forward capacity auctions. However, just this spring it failed to oppose ISO New England’s delayed repeal of the Minimum Offer Price Rule (MOPR), which subsidizes inefﬁcient, polluting fossil fuel plants and keeps renewables off the market. Connecticut must be bold in its advocacy for reforms that help our state and region transition to renewable energy and end our gas dependence.
For the upcoming Winter Reliability Forum to be productive, both FERC and ISO New England must afﬁrm that overreliance on methane gas is the source of our region’s grid reliability problems. Then, with a consensus on the problem, New England can begin work on the solutions.
As the hub of polluting energy generation in the region, Connecticut is uniquely positioned to beneﬁt from less dirty power and more clean energy generation. For healthy, safe communities and an energy-reliable region, Connecticut must do its part to end New England’s gas dependence now.
Samantha Dynowski is the State Director of the Sierra Club’s Connecticut Chapter.