The warning from ISO New England, the operator of the regional electric grid, came in early December, as it has for several years now – almost like a new holiday tradition.
First came the standard reassurance – so long as the Northeast sees mild or moderate weather conditions this winter, we will have adequate energy resources to keep the lights on and our homes warm. But then, the unsettling caveat: If the region experiences prolonged periods of intense cold weather, we may find ourselves with a grid dangerously under strain.
That means, if we’re on the wrong side of the weather pattern, the grid operator may be forced to take the drastic step of implementing rolling blackouts that would leave families throughout the region in the dark.
I thought back to that warning recently, as an arctic blast slammed into the region, driving temperatures below zero across Connecticut and all of New England. It was chilling reminder of just how close we are to the brink of disaster.
Fortunately, this was a short duration event, lasting just over a day. Had these glacial temperatures lingered for days, or weeks, we may have found ourselves in a perilous situation, without the necessary energy resources to meet demand. Though we were fortunate to see a return to mild temperatures, the risk hasn’t diminished – not for this winter, or for the future. A cold snap that hit the region in 2018 lasted for 16 days. The dire reliability report issued by the ISO cast doubt on the region’s ability to withstand such an onslaught of frigid conditions and peak demand.
How did we find ourselves in this situation, at the mercy of the weather in the Northeast, of all places? And with a potential outcome so dire for families across the region, how much longer can we rely on a lucky bounce to see us through?
The truth is, New England, at the end of the energy pipeline, is far too reliant on one fuel – natural gas. And we are served by an energy market in the region that is failing customers – on price and reliability. But this situation wasn’t inevitable. It was created, in large part by power plant operators leveraging a flawed market for their own interests instead of the interests and needs of the customers they are meant to serve.
These unregulated companies, which reported a combined revenue of more than $340 billion in 2021, have done so by operating for far too long without transparency or accountability, taking advantage of a market structure that can’t keep pace with the pursuit of decarbonization in states like Connecticut. Represented by the New England Power Generators Association, these companies have lobbied against policies to advance new industries like offshore wind and spent tens of millions of dollars to prevent clean energy resources, like hydropower, from entering the market.
Thanks to the vision of Gov. Ned Lamont and the General Assembly, Connecticut has set ambitious, crucial goals to reduce emissions, green our energy supply, and build a clean energy future for its residents. But the energy market is out of step with those targets, and it is leaving our must vulnerable residents behind.
This year, the energy supply rates, paid by customers across Connecticut and set by these out-of-state generation companies, have skyrocketed, hiking the monthly bill for a typical family by $80 – a cost increase many can ill afford with prices rising for everyday essentials like groceries and rent.
As a proud member of the communities we serve, AVANGRID and United Illuminating consider these cost increases unacceptable, which is why we worked with Governor Lamont’s administration to craft an urgent relief plan that provides $40 in direct financial assistance monthly, between January-April, to our customers most in need. Simultaneously, we’ve directed $3.3 million to Operation Fuel to support its important work.
But more must be done. It is time for policymakers across New England to come together as a region, take a hard look at the market structure that got us here, and find a better path forward – one that protects our most vulnerable, brings them along as an equal part of the clean energy transition, and centers the front-line communities that will suffer the most harmful consequences of this failing market. A path forward that accelerates the clean energy goals of the region, instead of betting our children’s future on a hope and a prayer.
Meanwhile, it is time for the generation companies to step up and do the right thing. For months, AVANGRID and UI have implored these companies to join us at the table, share their massive revenues with the customers driving their profits, and provide direct relief to families in need. Unsurprisingly, they have declined to answer the call.
Recently, the power generators have claimed that this market is working as designed and delivering results. In truth, only those that stood to profit from this dysfunction could argue the market is working in the public interest. Our customers know better.
ISO New England has estimated that electric demand will double over the next 30 years, as we continue to decarbonize the economy and electrify our heating and transportation sectors. But with a grid already under strain, who will ensure that we have sufficient resources to meet this rising demand? Clearly, the market as it exists today is not providing the solutions we need.
As we continue advocating for a better path forward, AVANGRID is working hard every day to accelerate the clean energy transition, help New England meet its demand for reliable power, and deliver cost-effective solutions to customers. Through the New England Clean Energy Connect Hydropower project and our nation-leading portfolio of offshore wind projects, we’re working to bring 4,000 Megawatts of clean, cost-effective power to the region – enough to power more than 2 million homes and create thousands of well-paying jobs.
We’re doing this in the face of fierce opposition from the same generators that are hiking prices on hard working families this winter – companies that are more concerned with preserving their own antiquated business model than providing critical solutions for the significant energy challenges facing the region.
We are well past the time for transparency, accountability, and relief. Last week, the Energy and Technology Committee called these generation companies in for a hearing, an important opportunity for our representatives to finally ask these questions directly.
Of course, we didn’t hear much in response. With costs increasing and our power grid hanging by a thread, it is clear these companies don’t have the answers Connecticut families are looking for.
Catherine Stempien is the President and CEO of Avangrid Networks.