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As Mass. Considers Carbon Pricing, Conn. Takes 'Serious Look' At Exiting Regional Power Market

A view of ISO New England’s control room in Holyoke. The massive digital display is a real-time image of the region’s power grid. (Courtesy of ISO New England)
A view of ISO New England’s control room in Holyoke. The massive digital display is a real-time image of the region’s power grid. (Courtesy of ISO New England)

It's been a hot week for carbon.

NASA and NOAA scientists reported that the last decade was the hottest ever recorded. During standing-room-only hearings at the Massachusetts State House, lawmakers and state officials considered ways to reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions by putting a price on carbon. And in Connecticut, the state commissioner of energy and environmental protection said Wednesday that the state is being forced to invest in natural gas plants it doesn’t want or need.

Katie Dykes’ comments on the future of Connecticut’s energy policy came up during a forum at Trinity College, while the Legislature prepares to convene next month. Speaking to a crowd at the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, Dykes said a “lack of leadership” at ISO New England, which oversees the regional power grid, is hindering the state’s fight against climate change.

“We are at the mercy of a regional capacity market that is driving investment in more natural gas and fossil fuel power plants that we don’t want and we don’t need,” Dykes said. “This is forcing us to take a serious look at the cost and benefits of participating in the ISO New England markets.”

The department has scheduled a meeting on the issue for Wednesday, Jan. 22.

Dykes’ comments come amid a fight over a new natural gas electricity plant in Killingly, which was greenlit by ISO New England — and by state siting officials.

In an emailed statement, ISO spokesperson Matt Kakley took issue with Dykes’ critique. He said the Killingly plant won approval in a recent power auction but added that “securing an obligation in our market does not mean that a resource will be built.”

“The states control what is built in their states, and new [plant] owners must meet the environmental and siting requirements of the state in which they are trying to build,” Kakley said. “The ISO has no jurisdiction over those decisions. In this case, it was the Connecticut DEEP and other agencies who approved the permits for the plant.”

Connecticut’s Siting Council approved the Killingly project in June of last year. The DEEP also wrote a letter in support. Opponents of the plant have staged protests throughout the state, and last September they sued to block its approval.

Kakley also questioned the feasibility of Connecticut exiting a multi-state energy market that dates to the late 1990s.

“If any one state seeks to cease participating … it raises a host of complex questions that have yet to be answered,” Kakley said. “The markets ... were designed as part of a multi-state regional framework and were not set up with carve-out provisions. In addition to changes to the ISO tariff, the states would need to determine what changes to their own laws would be required, as well as the impact of such a move on any existing contracts they may have.”

Connecticut’s legislature convenes on Feb. 5.

This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. A version of this story was originally published by Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR) on Jan. 15, 2020.

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