Nuclear aids New England energy security, say governors 

15 August 2018

The governors of five states in the USA's New England region have called on the regional grid operator to evaluate incentives for nuclear energy, among other affordable, clean and secure energy options.

The Pilgrim plant, which is due to shut next year (Image: Entergy)

"Energy policies implemented at the state level strive to balance affordability, reliability and sustainability," the governors said in a statement released on 13 August. "It is vital that our pursuit of a reliable and lower-carbon grid leverages available technologies and competitive markets to foster affordable electric rates for all consumers."

However, they note that while state-level policies can have some impact on consumer electricity prices, there are factors outside of their control - such as wholesale electricity markets and transmission costs - which can account for half the cost of consumer bills. These costs, the governors say, are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and are "highly correlated with the planning assumptions and operational actions taken by ISO New England (ISO-NE), the entity that manages the region's electric grid and underlying wholesale energy markets."

The governors urged ISO-NE to "ensure that affordability and rate impacts are expressly considered and analysed with respect to proposed market rules and initiatives." They added, "Any new market actions to support system reliability must have a full accounting of the benefits and costs to regional consumers."

While developing new market incentives for fuel security, ISO-NE must "accurately define the nature and extent of the problem, ensure that reasonable assumptions are made regarding available resources, and provide transparent information regarding the operational benefits of different solutions," the governors said. "They must also demonstrate the extent to which existing state energy policies may be leveraged to reduce or eliminate system constraints, and, at minimum, accommodate key state energy public policy drivers."

Winter is coming

Winter fuel security has been recognised as the "most significant issue" facing New England. The region has increasingly been relying on natural gas-fired generation during cold periods. "These concerns have been heightened as non-natural gas-fired generation resources, such as nuclear, coal and oil, have retired in recent years," the governors say.

"Effective next June, the region will have two nuclear power plants that represent approximately 3500 MWe of baseload energy that is not dependent on natural gas infrastructure and also helps to meet emission goals," they note. "While some regional programmes, including the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, assign value to clean energy resources, it is important to continue to evaluate cost-effective policies that properly value existing clean energy resources which have significant fuel security implications."

Entergy shut its 600 MWe Vermont Yankee plant in Vermont at the end of 2014 for economic reasons. The company also notified ISO-NE in October 2015 that its 680 MWe Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts would not participate in the capacity market after 31 May 2019, meaning that the plant would have to shut by 1 June 2019 at the latest. This will leave the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire and the Millstone plant in Connecticut as the remaining operating plants in New England.

The governors say there is "no one clear solution" to the winter fuel problem, and "each state's policy priorities will inform the solutions that the states want to prioritise."

"The New England states, working in collaboration, commit to making energy costs in the region more affordable," they said. "Given state jurisdiction over energy resource choices as well as environmental policies, the New England states have a crucial role in implementing regional solutions."

The statement was signed by the governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. However, the Governor of Maine - the sixth state that forms the New England Region - did not sign the statement.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News