Holding a finger to the wind

By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 19, 2009

Recognizing the ISO's successful history of cooperation among those in the region, the six New England governors asked for ISO New England's technical assistance in creating this regional blueprint for the transmission development needed to integrate onshore and offshore renewable resources. In recent months, a team of ISO New England employees has been conducting economic studies on a range of scenarios to integrate large-scale wind resources into the region's electric grid in the 20-year timeframe (around 2030). This initiative is still underway, but, when completed will help the region to better understand the potential for wind development, how best to integrate wind facilities, and the costs associated with this development.

President Obama has called for wind to constitute 20 percent of our energy by 2030; do you think we should expect to see that become a reality here in New England?
While I can't put a specific number on it for New England, and it depends on policy and price, we seem poised to head in that direction.

Is it reasonable to say that wind is the most viable renewable energy source in New England (as opposed to solar, biomass, etc.)?
The long coastline and wind patterns in New England make wind a viable option for the region. In the end, though, we expect a range of renewable resources — including wind, solar, and biomass — will be developed as a part of our energy portfolio.

Is the grid ready right now for an influx of wind energy?
As I mentioned, developers have proposed about 3100 megawatts of renewable projects around the region, and 85 percent of those are wind projects. While not every proposed project actually gets built, we believe it's important to get ahead of the curve and prepare for the large-scale integration of wind. The power output from wind plants is difficult to predict, because the wind varies from minute to minute and day to day, so integrating that variable output into a power system designed to use predictable, dispatchable generation is a challenge.

To prepare for the arrival of wind energy, ISO New England has initiated a comprehensive, year-long Wind Integration Study to assess the impact of various wind-development scenarios on power-system operations. The study is taking a comprehensive look at how wind energy (both onshore and offshore), demand, more traditional generation, and transmission will interact. We are studying historical wind patterns and projected consumer demand over time, identifying best practices to forecast wind, and determining whether new operating requirements and market rules need to be developed to maintain reliable operations.

What improvements need to be done to make the grid ready for more wind power, and are they realistic?
Transmission investment will be needed to integrate renewable resources into the electric grid and deliver energy from remote locations to the population centers where it is consumed. New England has a long, successful history of working together to build needed transmission. Going forward, the region will have to weigh the cost of the added transmission against the benefits.

Do you expect the New England energy landscape — the producers, the grid, etc. — to look very different in the coming decades?
Although conventional power plants will still provide the bulk of the region's power, the new energy landscape in New England will be dotted with wind farms, biomass, and other renewable resources, and will include demand resources, conservation efforts, and storage devices, such as flywheels, batteries, and plug-in hybrids.

This new frontier will help lessen our reliance on fossil fuels to produce the electricity we need, and their impact on electricity prices. It will also help meet our region's environmental goals, and give consumers more control of their electricity costs by prompting them to use less and perhaps save more. It also presents many new business opportunities for developers in the region.

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