Governors Demand Changes From New England Power Grid Operator

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)

As states eye ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in the coming decades, the governors of Massachusetts and four other New England states this week issued a formal call for changes to the regional electricity market, the transmission planning process and the governance of the New England power system operator.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Maine Gov. Janet Mills, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed a statement released Wednesday that said the state executives "have developed a Vision document outlining areas where reform is vital if New England is to achieve its carbon-reduction goals." That document is expected to be released by the New England States Committee on Electricity later this week.

"To meet to our Administration's goal of net zero emissions in Massachusetts by 2050, the Commonwealth needs a regional electricity system that can support the delivery of clean, affordable, and reliable energy to residents and businesses," Baker said. "My administration looks forward to working with our partner states, ISO-New England and stakeholders to build a more transparent, modern and cost-effective power system that will allow New England states to meet our ambitious climate change and clean energy goals while creating a better future for our residents."

In the statement released Wednesday, the governors note that all five of their states "are deeply committed to addressing climate change and cost-effectively reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050," though some states like Massachusetts have more ambitious targets.

Baker announced in January that he would accelerate Massachusetts's decarbonization efforts. The 12-year-old Global Warming Solutions Act required an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050, but a new limit announced by the administration in April essentially puts the state on the path towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Under no circumstance, however, should the level of emission be higher than 85 percent below 1990 levels, the policy established.

The Baker administration has said it plans to release a roadmap to meet its carbon reduction goals by the end of the year.

"To achieve these goals, we need a decarbonized grid capable of supporting the accelerated adoption of more sustainable electric, heating, and transportation solutions for families and businesses. Moreover, the region's electric markets must account for the full value of on-going state investments in clean energy resources made pursuant to our laws," the governors wrote. "Going forward, we require a regional electricity system operator and planner that is a committed partner in our decarbonization efforts."

The governors pointed to four things that ISO-New England, the regional electricity system operator, should do to support the states' decarbonization aims.
First, the grid operator should "proactively develop market-based mechanisms, in concert with state policymakers, that facilitate growth in clean energy resources and enabling services." ISO-New England also ought to conduct system planning exercises that "proactively address our clean energy needs," and ensure grid reliability at the lowest cost while still meeting consumer needs.

The governors also call on ISO-New England to adopt "an organizational mission and structure to reflect our energy transition and establish a higher degree of accountability and transparency to the participating States and other stakeholders."

A spokesman for ISO-New England said the grid operator had received the governors' statement and looks forward to engaging with the five states on the issues raised in the statement.

"ISO New England, the New England states, and market participants have a long history of working together to tackle the challenges facing the power system, and we expect that to continue," the regional grid operator said in a statement. "Maintaining reliable, competitively-priced electricity through the clean energy transition will require broad collaboration, and the common vision of the New England governors will play an important role in the discussions currently underway on the future of the grid. We appreciate the New England Governors sharing their regional vision to achieve a shared clean energy future and reaching out to ISO New England to help them achieve their goals."

Maine Gov. Janet Mills said it is "far past time" that New England changes the way its electric grid is managed.

"The wholesale electricity markets must advance and support clean energy laws and policies, as the states demand decarbonization and markets and consumers support more renewables," she said. "ISO-New England must keep pace with state priorities and it must be more transparent and accountable in its decision making, broadening its focus to include consumer and environment concerns as well as reliability and cost."

National Grid, a utility that provides power to Massachusetts and Rhode Island and which has announced its own plans to reduce its "direct greenhouse gas emissions to net zero" by 2050, said it is prepared to do its part to help the states it serves meet climate change-related targets.

"We've already started our journey to become the most intelligent transmission network in the United States and we have a significant role to play in cohesive transmission planning for the region. National Grid is installing technologies across its transmission network that are designed to more easily integrate clean sources of energy, while enhancing the resilience and reliability of the system," National Grid said in a statement. "National Grid will continue to work with stakeholders on potential improvements to the competitive wholesale markets, with the goal of finding the most cost-effective and efficient path forward for supporting the clean energy resource investments required to achieve the decarbonization goals of the region."

The governors said Wednesday that each of their states plans to "convene open and accessible forums to ensure that all interested stakeholders have an opportunity to participate in further refinement of the principles" that will be laid out in the vision document expected to be released this week by NESCOE.

Two years ago, Baker was part of a bipartisan group of 18 governors that proposed the federal government take a serious look at stitching together the three main United States power grids, comparing the importance of grid modernization to the creation of the interstate highway system 60 years ago.


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