Washington -- Aggressive energy efficiency efforts and new distributed generation capacity -- virtually all of it in the form of solar projects -- are combining to put a lid on growth in peak demand and electric use in New England, ISO New England said in its newly released 2015 Regional System Plan.
"The regional energy landscape is undergoing a dramatic change in terms of the composition of generation, transmission, demand resources, and wholesale markets," the ISO said in RSP15, which provides the foundation for long-term power planning in New England.
"This evolution poses a series of challenges the ISO is addressing through a collaborative effort of the New England states and market participants, as well as neighboring regions," it added.
According to the plan, the annual growth rate in peak summer demand in the six-state region will average 0.6%, and annual use of electricity will remain unchanged through the 10-year period. ISO New England's winter peak will decline over the period, albeit only slightly: by an estimated 0.1% per year.
ISO New England said that without expanded energy efficiency and new solar capacity, annual energy consumption would grow by 1% per year, and peak demand would grow by 1.3%.
RSP15 says solar capacity in New England topped 900 MW at year-end 2014, and is expected to exceed 2,000 MW by 2019 and approach 2,500 MW by 2024. Most of the existing and planned solar capacity is in Massachusetts, the region's most populous state; 667 MW of solar capacity was operational in Massachusetts as of the end of 2014, and by 2024 it is expected to rise to 1,405 MW.
ISO New England said much of the roughly 4,000 MW of new wind capacity that has been proposed would be built "in remote areas of the region where wind conditions are good, but the electrical system is weak."
The regional transmission organization said it has been working with utilities and other stakeholders to improve New England's transmission network, and noted that key elements of one of the region's larger transmission efforts -- the Maine Power Reliability Program -- were completed earlier this year.
GAS-FIRED UNITS NEEDED
The new, variable-output renewable capacity being developed in New England will require the support of new natural gas-fired projects "to provide operating reserves as well as other ancillary services, such as regulation and ramping," the ISO said.
It noted studies have shown that the best places for adding new gas-fired capacity -- from both economic and system-reliability perspectives -- are Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts.
Generation developers already have been responding. Invenergy plans to build a 900-MW plant in Burrillville, Rhode Island; Johnston Clean Power is planning a 225-MW plant in Johnston, Rhode Island; and Emera Energy has said it will increase the output of its 265-MW plant in Tiverton, Rhode Island, by 22 MW and improve its heat rate, thereby boosting its competitiveness.
That new gas-fired capacity could exacerbate New England's already significant wintertime gas-supply problems, but gas pipeline companies continue to work on projects that would increase pipeline capacity into and through the region.
Spectra Energy said Monday that earlier this month its Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline unit filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to initiate the pre-filing review process for Algonquin's proposed Access Northeast project.
Bill Yardley, president of US transmission and storage at Spectra, said in a statement: "Access Northeast will provide true 'last mile' supply access for 5,000 MW of generation from the approximately 12,000 MW of gas-fired generation currently attached -- or expected to be attached over the next five years -- to Algonquin and [the] Maritimes & Northeast pipeline systems."