Credit: Christine Stuart photo

The regional electrical grid operator said Monday that New England should have an adequate supply of electricity to weather what is expected to be a mild to moderate winter. 

“Prolonged periods of very cold weather continue to pose power system reliability risks, but ISO New England will use procedures and plans, including a rolling three-week energy supply forecast, with the goal of mitigating these conditions should they materialize,” ISO New England said in a statement.

But they do not anticipate calling for controlled power outages. 

“Based on seasonal weather forecasts and information provided by generators about their fuel arrangements, the region’s power system is prepared for mild and moderate weather conditions,” Gordon van Welie, ISO New England’s president and CEO, said. “If long periods of severely cold weather develop, we’ll lean on our forecasting tools to identify potential problems early enough to take proactive measures, such as calling for increased fuel deliveries or asking for public conservation.”

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said they are “encouraged by the forecast of milder temperatures, which could help, but supply remains tight and we will continue to actively monitor the 21-day forecast.”

She said until they are able to diversify and clean up the grid it will continue “we will remain on a fossil fuel and climate change rollercoaster and must take steps we can control to ease the burden on families and businesses. While world events and economic forces far beyond Connecticut affect what’s happening here, there is help available for this winter through various in-state programs.”

Earlier this month when Connecticut’s two biggest utilities announced they would increase prices by 50%, Connecticut lawmakers pressured Eversource and Avangrid into making a bigger contribution to Operation Fuel to help families offset the price increase of up to $85 per month for the average household. 

The price increase follows a letter Eversource CEO Joseph Nolan sent to U.S. President Joe Biden in October warning that “LNG imports are not available…in the volumes necessary to meet this winter’s needs without causing further stress on European markets and the American economy.”

Pipelines serving New England “operate at maximum capacity during the winter,” Nolan said. “During very cold weather, and for extended periods, the pipelines cannot fully supply heating demand or provide enough fuel to power gas generators without significant injections of LNG on the eastern and northern parts of the New England gas system.”

If the region’s generators would be “forced to increase their reliance on foreign-sourced natural gas – if that is even possible – it will exacerbate well-documented shortages in Europe,” Nolan wrote. 

On Tuesday, Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Eversource, said ISO’s announcement Monday aligns with Nolan’s letter. 

“Our mutual concern is that in the event of a prolonged period of extreme cold, New England would not have sufficient natural gas to meet power supply needs, as the region remains dependent on natural gas for electric generation,” Gross said. “We’re confident ISO is prepared to meet demand this winter in mild or moderate weather conditions and in the event of an extreme cold snap, we’ll work closely with them to activate our well-rehearsed plan to manage through any potential energy shortfall.”

In order to develop its winter weather forecast, ISO works with generators to understand their fuel procurement plans, while offering a pre-winter training to discuss market and operational changes.

It also consults seasonal weather forecasts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is projecting above-average temperatures in New England this winter, though a warmer-than-average season does not eliminate the threat of prolonged stretches of cold weather. Climate change is making weather more volatile and harder to predict, while stimulating more severe weather.

The last time a cold snap threatened New England’s grid was back in 2017-2018. Beginning on Dec. 26, 2017, and stretching until Jan. 8, 2018, the region endured a brutal stretch of cold weather. All major cities in New England had average temperatures below normal for at least 13 consecutive days, of which 10 days averaged more than 10°F below normal. 

The grid operator said it uses a 21-day forecast to provide enough warning, which includes threats to the natural gas supply, which is responsible for the creation of most of the region’s electricity. 

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.

“By identifying and publicizing possible fuel supply shortfalls weeks in advance, the ISO wants to signal to the region’s wholesale energy market participants the need to contract for additional fuel deliveries. The early warning also allows time for coordination among the ISO, the region’s utilities, and government officials, especially if public conservation is needed,” ISO New England said.