By BRIAN DOWLING, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant – September 11, 2013
A roomful of state energy experts on Wednesday began remapping the state’s response to sweeping changes in electric markets that are challenging old business modes and disrupting how the region approaches power.
More and more power is coming from natural gas, an increasingly cheap fuel thanks to big finds in the Midwest and advancements in drilling technologies like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. On a more micro scale, power sources like solar panels and fuel cells are popping up throughout the state in places like town centers and neighborhood rooftops.
As these movements continue, the state needs accurate projections of what’s to come.
The region has already seen a number of old power plants struggle to keep up. Two weeks ago, Vermont Yankee, a 41-year-old nuclear plant in Vernon, said it would close because of market pressures from natural gas. NRG Energy cited similar reasons recently for its closure of an oil plant in Norwalk Harbor.
Though there’s no dearth of plans or reports coming from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection lately, the Integrated Resource Plan being discussed Wednesday maps expectations for how the electricity markets should perform three, five and 10 years from now.
The plan forms the basis for most the state’s energy policy and was central to the state’s recent Comprehensive Energy Plan and a review of the state’s portfolio of renewable energy.
Wednesday’s meeting outlined the framework for a review process that will extend into next year and will address questions such as whether the region has an adequate supply of power, whether utilities’ transmission work is sufficient for state demand, how state emissions rules are affecting price and anticipating changing federal regulations, and how the electric system can be made more secure.
Joel Gordes, who runs Environmental Energy Solutions in West Hartford, commented that though he was pleased by the detailed section on energy security, it could be improved.
“Security needs to be a cross-cutting issue,” Gordes said.
He argues that security is an issue that should be addressed alongside all the other sections, not siloed separately. As transmission is addressed, he said, the risks of shipping power across miles and miles of wire should be considered. With renewables, the question of in-state versus out-of-state preference matters for the same reason.
“In short, there needs to be discussions that include security-related risk factors as well as benefits for every technology/strategy”, Gordes said. He offered a topical list that includes fuel supply, physical security, cyber threats, and risks of having an overcomplicated electricity system.
Another issue the plan will address is how to commence a “phase down” of the state’s reliance on wood-burning biomass plants for renewable energy. Currently, biomass qualifies as a class one source of energy and receives top-tier subsidies as a result. Recent reviews of the state’s clean energy subsidies recommends that the state begin to lower the value of subsidies it gives to biomass plants.
The resources plan will examine at what pace should the state reduce those subsidies and what impacts that change might have on the state’s efforts to acquire clean energy.
A draft of the Integrated Resource Plan is expected in January, with a 60-day comment period, technical meetings and public hearings to follow. The final version is expected to be completed by March or April.