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The Restructuring Roundtable is a mostly monthly (it takes the summer months off) meeting of the energy sector in Boston that takes a morning to discuss energy issues in depth with the major players from all around NE. There is also much time allotted for networking.  The slides from the presentations are available online within a day or two and the video of the presentations comes a little later.  It is a great resource for anyone interested in these issues and the public is most definitely invited.

The Roundtable, for me, follows in the tradition of the NE-wide energy policy meetings the great Duane Day used to host at the Department of Energy starting back in the days before Reagan killed us.

The 6/14/13 Restructuring Roundtable was "ISO-NE's Generation Retirement Study & 2020 Resource Options for New England."  You can see the agenda and look at the slides here:
http://www.raabassociates.org/...
The video should be available in a few weeks.  ISO-NE manages the electricity market in New England and is thus the entity that is responsible for maintaining the flow of electrons from one utility to another when necessary.

Stephen Rourke, ISO-NE, presented their report on retiring the current 28 oil and coal plants in NE which are 40+ years old by 2020, a total of 8,281 MW.  These plants are increasingly uneconomic due to natural gas competition and tightened environmental regulations.  New transmission capabilities being built and planned throughout NE will add flexibility and facilitate their closing.  However, if no new generation capacity is installed, only 950MW can be retired without causing reliability and resource deficiencies.  At least 5000MW of new generation is needed to retire all the old plants but only 1 out of every 6 projects in the generation queue actually get built.  [That leaves a little over 2MW unaccounted for although I suspect that energy efficiency, demand response, distributed generation, and more flexible transmission policies will be taking up some of that slack.]

Peter Fuller of NRG, a power generation and retail electricity company, believes that ISO and FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] have lost an opportunity by not modeling new capacity zones, breaking NE into smaller regions for generation and transmission, and that we need better pricing mechanisms to promote more flexibility.  [Due to increasing weather emergencies and security issues, there will probably be many more instances of "islanding," buildings and developments which can generate their own power when the rest of the grid goes down.  I suspect that over the next decade this trend will contribute to rethinking electrical capacity zones from the bottom up and the top down.]

Stephen Molodetz from Hydro Quebec NE stated that they provide a third of VT electricity on long term contract and has a capacity of 175 TW of energy storage in their business [a comment that didn't generate any follow-up].  Hydro Quebec believes that by late 2017 their Northern Pass transmission line to NH will be finished and is examining other transmission projects, for the distant future.  [Each new transmission line will be an opportunity for many battles between those who want them and those who don't.  This will slow the building of such facilities and add costs all along the right of way.]

Paul Gaynor, First Wind, recommended "clean firm" - big new hydro from the north, on and off shore wind, and increased transmission as a way to generate reliable energy with long term 20-25 year contracts in competitive auctions.  Wind has a winter peak of power production.  [Interesting that he didn't link hydro with wind in pumped storage, although NE wind and Quebec hydro are too far apart for such energy storage.]

Herb Healy, EnerNOC, one of the largest energy management companies in the country, said ISO may be underestimating the retirement due to underestimating demand response and distributed generation, which is primarily rooftop solar.   Demand response consists of “changes in electric usage by end-use customers from their normal consumption patterns in response to changes in the price of electricity over time, or to incentive payments designed to induce lower electricity use at times of high wholesale market prices or when system reliability is jeopardized.”  In PJM, a regional transmission system which covers Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania,Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, demand response has successfully offset generation retirement.  Yet, in NE over the last year demand response spending has declined 50% in FCM [Forward Capacity Market] while energy efficiency funding remained the same. There is a need to rethink the current market structure.

David Cash, Commissioner of the MA DPU, underlined the fact that MA is planning 80% reduction in greenhouses gases from 1990 levels by 2050 through the Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted in 2008. Summer peak electrical load is about 8,000 MW, coincidentally, the same amount as the old coal and oil plants which are being considered for retirement.   Get rid of peak and you change the game.  5000MW in offshore wind, up to 156MW of wind power on land, 1600 MW in solar is new goal [for MA alone and that new goal was determined after achieving the old goal set for 2017 by 2013], 2000 MW in energy efficiency, 1000 MW in demand response are all possibilities to offset old plant retirements.  

Q:  How many of the oil/coal plants are peak power?
SR: None are now base load but they comprise 15-18% of summer peak.  3% of total generation is coal.
Q:  Gas prices, environment regulation, renewables and energy efficiency, or ISO rules caused the need for these plants' retirement?
SR:  Mostly gas and energy efficiency, half on the decommissioned list have environmental problems.
PF:  The rules affect everything.

Here are some of my thoughts after listening to the presentations:
Groups like 350MA are planning a summer campaign to close Brayton Point in Salem, MA     and other oil and coal fired plants.  Yet I might have been the only person at the Restructuring Roundtable who has attended 350MA meetings.  I sent my notes to 350MA as I believe they probably were not aware of the plans to schedule the retirement of all these coal and oil fired plants.  Over the last few months, I've tried to consistently alert such activists to these kinds of meetings so that they can begin to understand the problems and solutions being offered by industry a little better.  The states, the utilities, the electric power industry are all actively working to retire old plants but need to be able to guarantee a secure supply of electricity throughout the region in all conditions.  If activist groups like 350MA want to be more than noisemakers, they need to understand the issues more deeply and offer their own alternatives, alternatives that make practical and business sense.  It is my observation that the industry will welcome their participation in such forums if they come without banners and listen as well as speak.

My suspicion is that the experts are underestimating demand response and energy efficiency, although they may be closer to a true estimate of solar since they were so surprised by how quickly they were able to meet their previous solar goals, at least in MA.  I also suspect that the possible systems efficiencies of energy efficiency, demand response, and distributed generation are not yet fully understood or utilized.

It would be good for others to attend these kinds of meetings which are open to the public and have many of the real movers and shakers presenting real information about energy infrastructure in an open forum.  The presenters, in my experience, are thinking seriously about climate change and the energy industry.  There are allies here if people want to look for them.  If you want to speak directly to the decision-makers, this is one place where you can do it.  Not a place for placards but for pointed questions and quiet conversation that can have real consequences.

The last slide of the presentations came from DPU Commissioner Cash and stayed up throughout the Q and A session.  It was a quote from President Eisenhower:

"Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger. I can never solve it by trying to make it smaller, but if I make it big enough I can begin to see the outlines of a solution."
If I had had the presence of mind at that meeting, I would have asked him to use that framework and begin considering the widest possible conception of the energy and environmental problems that confront us:  how can we provide our energy needs with zero emissions from this point forward and find a way to remove the greenhouse gases from the atmosphere that we've already emitted?  As everybody in that room probably knows, this is exactly the task that faces us, although no one rarely puts it in those terms.  However, the thought experiment of considering zero emissions, 100% renewables, and greenhouse gas clearing concentrates the mind wonderfully and can lead to new and unusual solutions we might not have imagined otherwise.  

One example of this thinking can be found in Renewable Energy Systems:  The Choice and Modeling of 100% Renewable Solutions by Henrik Lund (Amsterdam:  Elsevier, 2010 ISBN 978-0-12-375028-0).  Another can be found in the renewable grid experiments at the University of Kassel in Germany ("Long-term perspectives for balancing fluctuating renewable energy sources" pdf alert: http://desire.iwes.fraunhofer.de/... and http://www.youtube.com/... ).

As for cleaning the atmosphere of greenhouse gases, I prefer ecological design remedies or geotherapy such as Allan Savory's Holistic Management techniques for restoring grasslands and dramatically increasing soil carbon sequestration as well as Massachusetts' own John Todd's work in imagining a way to restore the coal-ravaged landscape of Appalachia (http://challenge.bfi.org/...).  Having attended almost all the sessions of the Harvard/MIT Seminar on geoengineering, I can tell you that such ideas are not part of their conversation at all.

I may not have raised these points at that Friday morning meeting but I did send  Commissioner Cash an email about them later.  There is no realistic expectation that I will see a response but at least I can hope that email raised the issues.

Poll

Retire more coal and oil fired electrical plants?

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