Once again, New England is facing energy supply issues that could threaten the safety of its residents during extreme bouts of cold this winter, with the region’s power grid operator, ISO New England, warning that consumers may be forced to curtail electricity consumption during extreme cold periods.
Referencing protocols for extremely cold weather scenarios in their recent December statement, ISONE said:
“Conservation requests during these periods would be made to extend these fuel supplies until either the weather warms or additional deliveries make it to the region. Rather than moving consumer demand into different parts of the day, the public may be asked to limit their energy use during all hours, perhaps for several days.” (Emphasis added)
The fact that New Englanders will potentially be asked to limit their energy consumption during the coldest periods of winter is astonishing. The cluster of states has a larger economy than the entire country of Japan and contains some of the world’s most developed cities. Moreover, the region is situated right next to the Marcellus shale, one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world.
This warning comes despite forecasts that this winter is expected to be relatively warmer than previous seasons, which will provide some cushion to natural gas demand. Given that natural gas is used in New England for both power generation and direct home heating, without a moderate winter the consequences for the region’s citizens would be even more dire.
New Englanders Appeal to Biden Administration for Help
Back in late October, Joseph Nolan, the CEO of New England’s largest utility, Eversource Energy, wrote a letter to President Biden asking him to use executive powers to declare a state of emergency to avoid blackouts and consumer energy cut-backs in the region. In the letter, Nolan emphasized New England’s lack of energy supplies:
“[The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] has acknowledged for many months that New England will not have sufficient natural gas to meet power supply needs for the region in the event of a severe cold spell this winter.”
Five New England senators sent an additional letter to President Biden in late November, again attempting to bring awareness to New England’s power supply issues:
“With the upcoming winter season comes a real threat to energy reliability for residents and businesses in New England… Global events caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are exacerbating the risk that the region will not have the fuel supplies needed to maintain heat and power during an extended cold snap.”
Ironically, some of the signers of the letter, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have vehemently opposed necessary natural gas infrastructure, including the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
How Did We Get Here?
While New England has the proximity and capital available to build pipelines to transport affordable, clean, and reliable natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to its citizens, the region’s politicians have limited such developments. From pipeline setbacks and cancelations to New York’s ban on fracking, the region’s policymakers have stiff-armed their constituents into facing substantial rate hikes, paying higher prices for imported energy products and enduring unnecessary energy security vulnerabilities.
Additionally, the region’s initiatives to block pipelines and limit hydraulic fracturing have forced the region to turn to higher-emitting fuels such as coal and heating oil. On the other hand, domestic natural gas consumption has been proven to decrease carbon dioxide emissions while continuing to supply affordable and reliable energy.
Bottom-line: Short-sighted policymaking may force New Englanders to resort to dialing back their energy consumption during peak demand periods this winter. This will have far-reaching consequences for the region’s constituents as many rely on the electric grid for heating their homes and other essential activities. However, if policymakers do not take the necessary steps to ensure that natural gas supplies can be delivered to the region in the future, colder winters could bring even more pain to New England’s residents.
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