, Salem, MA


December 12, 2013

Watson: Power plant fight is about energy choices


In response to those lawsuits, state Rep. John Keenan has written legislation that would, essentially, permit Footprint to bypass CLF’s — and any and all — present and future appeals. I spoke with Keenan this week; he acknowledges that his amendment is unusual and extraordinary, but he feels that the region’s need for electrical power warrants the measure. It would not apply to any site other than Salem’s, and it would not preempt required regulatory provisions or hearings.

Keenan emphasized his reliance on the judgement of ISO, the Independent System Operator that monitors and operates the entire New England electrical grid — on which there are about 350 power generators of all sizes and fuels. I spoke with Ray Hepper, the general counsel of ISO, to understand its thinking about the new gas plant proposal.

Basically, over the next three to 10 years, given likely plant closures, likely energy efficiency gains, likely demand management, and the likely increase in electrical usage, ISO believes that the Footprint plant is needed. It is ISO’s difficult job to make assumptions about a large number of changing and unpredictable variables, and insure that the region always has unbroken power.

ISO makes a convincing case, and its managers have the enormous advantage of possessing both the details and the big picture. The irony is, although ISO is tasked to be policy-neutral and fuel-unbiased — not playing favorites, so to speak, say, about encouraging or discouraging gas versus wind — it could be one agency well-suited to help guide a transition to renewable energy (if so instructed).

And lack of clear plans — created by anyone — is really the important context here. Are we intent on making a transition to renewable energy? If so, where are the tools, plans, schedules, incentives, and market mechanisms to facilitate it? Massachusetts has passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which sets goals regarding the reduction, statewide, of CO2 emissions by 2020 and 2050. But the state has not been clear about how we’ll do that; and industry alone will not do it.

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