By - Jim Vess

Coal and oil all but disappear from New England electricity generation

Energize Weekly, February 13, 2019

Oil and coal, once the dominant sources of electricity generation in New England, have all but disappeared, primarily replaced by natural gas, according to ISO New England, the region’s grid operator.

Since 2000, coal’s share of energy production has dropped to 1 percent from 18 percent, and oil is now 1 percent compared to 22 percent 18 years ago.

Natural gas’ share has increased to 49 percent from 15 percent during the same 18-year period. Coal-fired and oil-fired plants remain 25 percent of the region’s capacity, but are primarily used as peaker plants.

“New England’s resource mix is transitioning from coal, oil, and nuclear power to natural gas-fired generation and renewable energy,” ISO New England said in its 2018-2019 profile of the six-state regional power grid.

Nuclear power’s share remained constant at 30 percent in 2018, but in May 2019, the 680-megawatt (MW) Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, in Plymouth, Mass., will be closed for economic reasons.

The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, in Vernon, Vt., closed in 2014. The remaining nuclear plant, in Seabrook, N.H., is licensed through 2030.

Overall, 5,200 MW of capacity has been retired since 2013 or is scheduled to be retired by 2023, including the 1,535-MW Brayton coal and oil plant in Somerset, Mass. and the 564-MW Bridgeport Harbor coal plant in Bridgeport, Conn.

The shuttering of coal and oil plants has led to a cut in air emissions from the region’s utility sector, according to the profile. Since 2000, carbon dioxide emissions are down 24 percent, sulfur dioxide releases are down 98 percent, and emissions of nitrogen oxides dropped 74 percent.

The renewable generation share edged up only 2 percentage points since 2000 to 10 percent, but ISO New England said that there are a large number of renewable energy projects in the pipeline.

“Developers have proposed 20,600 MW of new generating resources as of January 2019. Sixty-five percent wind, 15 percent natural gas, 19 percent other,” the profile said.

There is already about 1,400 MW of wind power operating in the region. Developers are proposing nearly 13,500 MW of additional wind power, mainly in northern New England and offshore in southern New England.

In early February, ISO New England reported that there are 10,000 MW of offshore wind projects in the development queue.

“Additional transmission will be needed to integrate these large-scale wind resources,” ISO New England said.

There are about 9,000 miles of high voltage lines in the region. Since 2002, 790 transmission projects have been done and about 80 additional projects are projected over the next 10 years.

Demand for electricity peaks in the summer, with a smaller winter peak. The record summer peak is 28,100 MW, and the winter peak record is 22,800 MW. Energy efficiency programs, sponsored by the states, and distributed photovoltaic (PV) solar generation are slowing peak demand growth, the profile said.

Through 2027, ISO New England projects the peak demand will actually decrease by 0.2 percent due to energy efficiency programs and distributed PV. An estimated $10.5 billion is projected to be spent on energy efficiency in the region between 2019 and 2027.

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