The New England power grid operator issued what’s known as a “Minimum Generation Emergency Warning” on Sunday night. The supply of electricity exceeded demand, and ISO New England took some power generators offline.
One of those generators was the 10-megawatt (mW) Georgia Mountain Community Wind Project. From about midnight to 6 a.m. Monday morning, ISO ordered the project to halt power production in spite of gusty winds.
David Blittersdorf is a principal of the project. He claims his turbines would have produced 9.8 mW an hour, if they were allowed to generate. Now, Blittersdorf says, he is billing ISO $5,490 for the lost generation.
“Wind was cooking, and they were burning coal, gas and nukes instead,” Blittersdorf said.
Vermont Public Radio first spotlighted the recent wind power curtailments, and Blittersdorf’s project wasn’t alone. Green Mountain Power’s Lowell Mountain Wind Project was called off line, and GMP spokesperson Dotty Schnure said many of the utility’s 30-plus hydro plants were powered down. ISO representatives also said wind turbines across all of New England were dialed back.
“These people don’t give a damn about carbon, climate change or anything,” Blittersdorf said. “They are just running something based on their economic model that saves them a few dollars by having us take a hit.”
ISO spokesperson Marcia Blomberg says that is the way ISO is legally required to operate the market.
“ISO New England is fuel-neutral and is required to be fuel-neutral,” she said. “The power system is operated to ensure reliability, and the markets are operated based on economics. All these market rules have been developed and thoroughly vetted through the region’s intensive stakeholder process and approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The ISO can’t change these rules unilaterally; a proposal to give preference to one type of resource or another would have to go through the stakeholder process and be approved by FERC.”
Minimum Generation Emergencies generally occur during temperate nights, when power demand is at an annual low. Blomberg said that when this happens, the first generators to be called off are those outside the region.
The next generators ISO calls off are the “self-schedulers.” These are the generators that bid into the market at their leisure. Most, if not all, of New England’s renewable energy generators fall into this category of power producers because renewable power is less predictable.
The last generators to be affected, if at all, are those that participate in the market a day ahead. Base load generators — such as nuclear, coal and gas plants — can bid into the market a day ahead because they know in advance that they will be able to provide power the next day at a particular price. In return for pledging power to the grid ahead of time, ISO New England takes up its end of the agreement by minimizing the impact of grid cuts on these power producers. The generator guarantees the power, and the operator does its best to guarantee the market.
It would be almost impossible for a renewable energy producer to participate in the day-ahead market because the risk is too high. If a producer does not provide power at the price agreed to in that market, then the producer eats the price of the power that is not produced.
Blittersdorf said that the future reduction of New England’s greenhouse gas emissions hinges on restructuring the market to prioritize renewable sources when they are generating.
“They made rules based on the assumption that everybody has power that comes from burning fuels at anytime,” he said. “When you go from carbon-based fossil fuels and nuclear to renewables, you have to update your rules. It’s a system that doesn’t work really well for renewables.”
Burlington Electric Department purchases all of the power from Georgia Mountain. Ken Nolan, manager of power resources for the department, said his utility wasn’t affected by Georgia Mountain’s closure, but he says the market needs to play by different rules.
“Burlington didn’t see an impact from this, but the developers did see a significant impact, and things need to change in how ISO manages the system,” he said.
Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, said he is in support of prioritizing renewables in the market, but there is no easy fix.
“The idea raised of a must-take on renewables, we think, is a good one, with an eye on the impact of rates,” Recchia said. “But that’s part of a longer conversation with ISO and FERC to change how ISO dispatches resources.”