April 27, 2018

ISO: New England's historic cold snap caused disproportionate fuel usage

Contributed | Jimmy Jeong
Contributed | Jimmy Jeong
The 520-megawatt Bridgeport Energy plant.

A two-week cold snap in New England this winter caused the region's power plants to burn more than double the amount of oil it burned in all of 2016, according to ISO New England.

In a report released this week, ISO New England, which operates the region's bulk power system and wholesale electricity market, said an extreme 13-day cold wave beginning Dec. 26 caused the region to burn more than 2 million barrels of oil for electricity during the stretch, which is more than double the 1 million barrels of oil burned in 2016.

While much of the state's power comes from natural gas fired plants and nuclear power, periods of high demand force the need for dirtier "peaker" plants to fire up.

ISO said the cold wave caused natural gas pipeline constraints and increased prices in the region due to high demand. As a result, about 27 percent of the region's electricity during the period was generated by power plants that use oil, compared to less than 1 percent in the previous 25 days.

Switching to burning oil over the span also increased greenhouse gas emissions to 220,000 short tons per day, up from 100,000 short tons per day in the days prior.

Meanwhile, nuclear power plants generated a lesser 27 percent of power during the record-breaking cold snap vs. powering 34 percent of the region in the month prior.

ISO operators took "unprecedented" steps of postponing the operation of oil plants for later in the day or week, using other generating resources to conserve fuel, they said.

The report says several oil-fired power plants were nearing their federal or state emissions limitations during the period.

"The cold temperatures, together with winter storms and other complicating factors, led to some of the most challenging conditions our system operators have ever had to navigate," said Peter Brandien, ISO New England's vice president for system operations.

New England's wholesale energy market was valued at $992 million during the two-week stretch vs. $243 million during the same period in 2016. The energy market value for that period had only reached highs of $292 million since 2014.

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