Natural gas pipeline (PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek via Shutterstock) Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek via Shutterstock

The good news is that officials believe the energy grid in New England will be able to be maintained without any black- or brown-outs this winter. The bad news is that it’s going to cost the region much more to heat their homes and keep the lights on. 

“We’re seeing a reliable grid, but this one is going to be more expensive as a result of Russia invading Ukraine,” Dan Dolan, president of New England Power Generators Association, said. 

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said ISO-New England, the grid operator, is forecasting a stable winter for a region that relies heavily on natural gas.

She said last week that no one has a crystal ball when it comes to weather, but that she agrees with ISO-New England’s prediction for the winter season. 

A big part of the reason is that in 2019, Connecticut helped save the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant from prematurely shutting down. She said that 10-year contract to keep nuclear power as part of a grid that relies too much on natural gas will help sustain the region through the winter months. 

She said the Millstone contract actually helped get money back to ratepayers in September and the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress will continue to benefit ratepayers when electricity prices are low again. It will also help Connecticut compete for $5 billion in federal funds to improve its transmission. 

She said the region has to refocus its efforts on building more transmission in order to maintain the grid and diversify its fuel sources. 

“We need to get better at integrating off-shore wind into the transmission grid,” Dykes said. 

In the short term, things will get a little more expensive due to tight supplies of natural gas.

According to ISO-New England, natural gas is the predominant fuel in New England, used to generate 53% of the power produced in 2021 by New England’s power plants, and natural gas-fired power plants usually set the price of wholesale electricity in the region. As a result, average wholesale electricity prices are closely linked to natural gas prices.

Dolan said if you look at Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and even New York, they are seeing some “pretty scary increases,” in their energy bills.

In Connecticut, those rates are adjusted twice a year and the next adjustment won’t come until Jan. 1. The proposed rates from Eversource and United Illuminating will be submitted to the Public Utility Regulatory Authority sometime in November.

Dolan said it’s not unusual to see an increase of between 50% to 60% in states near Connecticut, which are part of the regional grid. 

“It’s certainly going to hurt a lot of people,” Dolan said.

Part of the reason is that New England is competing with Europe over a limited supply of liquified natural gas. 

Dykes said they discussed recently whether to have ISO-New England step in and secure a backup supply of natural gas, but concluded that would drive up prices for generators, who are currently handling the situation.