, Salem, MA

December 17, 2013

Our view: It's time to listen to the region's energy experts

The Salem News

---- — ISO-New England, the independent organization that oversees the electric grid in New England, last week made its clearest statement yet that the proposed Footprint plant in Salem is needed to ensure a steady, reliable source of power to the region’s homes, schools and businesses.

Maybe it’s time those opposed to the new, state-of-the-art plant paid attention.

If the $800 million plant is not ready by 2016, ISO general counsel Roy Hepper wrote in a court filing last week, “the (Northeast/Boston) area is expected to face an electric capacity shortage, will not meet federal reliability criteria and could face rolling blackouts.”

The filing with the state Supreme Judicial Court comes in response to a series of legal appeals from the Conservation Law Foundation that threaten to slow the approval process for the 692-megawatt plant. ISO wants an expedited hearing on those appeals, saying a delay in building a new plant threatens the reliability of the regional power grid.

Footprint Power bought the 65-acre site last year and plans to shutter the coal-and-oil burning plant there by May, replacing it with a much cleaner gas-burning plant. The project calls for a complete cleanup of the waterfront site, a large portion of which would be open to development.

While city officials are understandably concerned that CLF’s delaying tactics will kill the project by causing its financing to dry up — taking a taxpaying property off the rolls and leaving a decaying, contaminated chunk of buildings –— the rest of the region has something to worry about, as well. Rolling brownouts are nobody’s idea of proper energy management.

The CLF and other opponents rather blithely state that there are other ways to handle potential power shortfalls, citing everything from upgrading transmission lines to energy-conservation measures.

Wrong, says ISO-New England.

“There are no transmission projects that have even begun the siting process and, as a result, transmission is not a viable option to meet the need,” Hepper wrote.

Opponents of the plant can’t merely assume ISO can solve whatever energy supply problem is thrown at it without the solution having an effect on residents of the region.

“CLF is correct in asserting that, if the Footprint plant is not constructed, the ISO will take all possible steps to protect reliability,” he wrote. “What CLF fails to explain is what these steps could include. Further, CLF is wrong that the ISO will ‘ensure’ reliability if the plant is not built.”

ISO said it may have to rely on brownouts or “trailer-mounted diesel generators” to provide power if the Footprint plant doesn’t come to fruition.

“Without sufficient resources in a local area, the ISO will heavily rely on existing demand response resources and other emergency load relief actions. On a hot summer or cold winter day or if other resources fail, the ISO will use controlled power outages, or ‘rolling blackouts,’ in the (Northeast Massachusetts/Boston) zone to assure that reliability in the larger region is not threatened,” ISO said in its court filing. “While such rolling blackouts help ensure reliability in the larger system, they do result in disruption of service to electric customers in the affected areas.”

Critics say ISO is “fear-mongering,” but even state regulators rely on the agency’s expertise.

“We rely on ISO-New England for information about reliability, so we would defer to them on the issue,” Mary-Leah Assad, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, told reporter Tom Dalton last week.

ISO-New England is not fear-mongering. It is offering its expertise. ISO is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and it doesn’t profit from its opinions. As the agency noted in its court filing, “The ISO has no shareholders, and its employees are barred from being employed by or owning shares in companies that participate in the ISO’s markets.”

ISO’s job — its only job — is to make sure there’s a reliable flow of power to the region. And the agency said it needs the Footprint plant to do it.

Maybe it’s time people started listening.