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New England Grid Chief: Region Has 'Severe Case' of NIMBYism

With local opposition cropping up against everything from offshore wind turbines to transmission lines, New England's "severe case of NIMBYism" is a key challenge for the region, the head of ISO New England (ISO-NE) noted last week.

"We don't like building anything that's big and ugly and produces or delivers electricity, that's just the bottom line, except maybe for some gas-fired generation...," said Gordon van Welie, CEO of ISO-NE, at the Platts Northeast Power Markets Forum, which was held in Arlington, VA. "We've seen that reaction against building transmission lines pretty much anywhere in the region, and I think we'll find it very difficult to build generation alternatives on a large scale other than natural gas," he said.

Van Welie noted that Georgia lawmakers recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing for new nuclear capacity in that southern state. "Could one imagine of such a situation occurring in Connecticut or Massachusetts? I can't," the ISO-NE official said.

"If you look at New England, we don't want to build windmills off Massachusetts. We don't want to build windmills in Vermont. We don't want to build transmission lines anywhere. We are unlikely to build coal facilities anywhere. And so essentially what we're left with is by default this reliance on gas infrastructure," said van Welie.

Another problem facing the region is that customers aren't getting signals "that there is a difference in the production cost of electricity in August relative to April."

Van Welie said that "if we don't want to do all of those things then we should expect to see 20 [to] 30% price increases for the foreseeable future, and I don't think that's acceptable to anyone, so we have to start tackling some of the thorny issues within New England.

"We're actively seeking that policymakers in New England come together to start tackling some of these problems because we need political solutions in order to get this infrastructure built."

Opposition from well-known environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. and others has emerged against a planned wind park offshore Cape Cod. Meanwhile, a hearing officer at the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) recently recommended that state regulators deny a certificate of public good for a planned 6 MW wind farm in the state, noting that the proposed project would be constructed on 17 acres "located in the heart of tens of thousands of acres of undeveloped, conserved lands."

Last year, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said that the Connecticut Siting Council must consider critical and significant environmental and public health and safety factors before approving the design and construction of a proposed 345 kV transmission line from Middletown to Norwalk. The siting council in 2005 approved the 69-mile, 345 kV Middletown-to-Norwalk transmission project proposed by Connecticut Light & Power Co. and United Illuminating Co.

After his prepared remarks, van Welie was asked by NGI whether he thinks a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) designation of a national interest transmission corridor (NIETC) in New England would be necessary in order to get additional transmission built in the region.

"It depends on what you call a corridor," he said. "We've already designated a whole range of different corridors, if you want to look at it from that perspective, in New England, which are these 345 kV lines. The lines in Connecticut, the upgrades into Boston, the line up into Vermont, the line from Maine up into New Brunswick. All of those are regional corridors if you want to look at it from that perspective."

He said that given that these projects "are underway and moving, we don't see a need at this point in time to say something else needs to be declared a national corridor, but I'm not precluding that possibility in the future at some point," he said.

ISO-NE uses a regional-system plan to determine resources and transmission facilities needed to maintain reliable and economic operation of New England's bulk electric power system over a 10-year horizon.

"We agree with the notion of the FERC having backstop [transmission] siting authority," van Welie noted. That authority was given to FERC under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

ISO-NE and five other U.S.-based electric power grid operators recently told the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that it should clearly define NIETCs by building on existing independent planning processes.

"I think what we need to try and do is work things out amongst ourselves in the states first," van Welie said. "FERC is really there as the backstop, and so what I'm hopeful we can do is for all the transmission that we need to get built in New England, we can work that out in New England and really just save the FERC backstop authority as a last resort."

Meanwhile, in early March, the grid operator said that it was joining in a final agreement with most regional stakeholders to establish a redesigned wholesale electric capacity market including a new market auction system. The agreement was submitted to FERC on March 6.

Agreement on the new system is vital to promoting investment in new and existing power resources that are needed to meet growing consumer demand and maintain reliable electric service for consumers, ISO-NE said at the time. The parties have requested that FERC issue its final ruling by June 30.

The agreement would establish a forward capacity market under which ISO-NE would project the needs of the power system three years in advance and then hold an annual auction to purchase power resources to satisfy the region's future needs.

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