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Electricity grid operator expecting more demand and renewables in New England

Two turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island.
Jesse Costa
Two turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

New England’s electricity grid is in for major changes, according to a yearly report from ISO New England, the organization that manages the region’s grid.

The report says decarbonization will become the way of life in New England, with heating and transportation becoming electrified through technology like heat pumps and electric vehicles. That will increase regional demand for electricity.

At the same time, the grid, which now predominantly runs on natural gas, will shift towards renewable energy.

All New England states, except New Hampshire, have set aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing renewables.

ISO New England’s interconnection queue – the lineup of new proposed resources for electricity generation – is a relatively good snapshot of what the future could look like, the organization said. As of March, two-thirds of that proposed lineup is wind power, with battery storage and solar accounting for much of the rest. Natural gas only accounts for 3% of the queue.

The grid operator expects renewables to become the new “baseline resource” for the grid, but did not give a timeline for that transition. Not all of the projects in the interconnection queue will be built, and the mix can change daily. ISO-NE says, historically, almost 70% of proposed resources have not come to fruition.

The report says transitioning the grid to more renewable energy will depend on updates to our transmission system – the poles, wires, substations and cables that help get electricity where it needs to go.

ISO New England develops and oversees markets for wholesale electricity – where companies buy and sell power that eventually comes to consumers. The way those markets function could have a big impact on the energy transition. Right now, large-scale renewable projects are mostly funded by utility ratepayers through state-sponsored contracts, the report says.

But designing the markets differently could shift the risk to renewable developers, instead of residents paying electricity bills. In a February study, the grid operator examined market design options like awarding certificates for clean energy, or putting a price on carbon emissions, but did not determine an approach.

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This article was originally published onNHPR.org.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.