ISO New England head says regional energy collaborations make sense

By Ramona du Houx

August 27th, 2010

At the Council of State Governments’ Eastern Regional Conference in Portland last August, energy issues were a hot topic. Governor Baldacci spoke and hosted a panel discussion on energy with Governor Jim Douglas and Deputy Premier Frank Corbett of Nova Scotia. And special guest Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of ISO New England Inc., discussed the opportunities and obstacles presented by wind power.

ISO New England Inc. is nonprofit regional transmission organization serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. ISO New England oversees the movement or transfer of electric energy at high-voltage levels into, within, and out of New England.

The federal government is currently deciding where new high-voltage transmission lines that will move the energy from remote wind turbines and other alternative energy sources to market will be located.

According to van Welie, some Midwestern wind power could be marketed to the Northeast, but he said that it makes more sense to develop New England’s wind-power potential instead of looking to the Midwest.

This is critical for Maine’s wind-energy plans developed working in concert with New England states and the Eastern Canadian provinces.

Last year the New England Governors’ Renewable Energy Blueprint was signed at the Northeastern Governors’ and Eastern Premiers Conference. The Blueprint, based in part on a study conducted by ISO New England, calls for New England states to boost the proportion of electric energy demand met by renewable resources and energy efficiency to 30 percent by 2020 — and for up to a third of the region’s electric power to come from wind by 2030. Currently this regional group is trying to get the federal government to endorse the Blueprint.

A regional approach was heralded by van Welie as the best hope for the region to meet its renewable energy goals.

“A collaborative regional approach shares the risk and gives a boost to economies of scale that the region’s states can’t achieve on their own,” said van Welie.

These regional energy goals could be met by investments in offshore wind-power projects, other renewable energy projects, and imported hydropower from Canada. The electricity would be channeled along a new network of high-voltage transmission lines. The corridors could come through Maine on public land that would be leased to the companies using it. Those revenues would then serve to help Maine’s goal of weatherizing every home and half of businesses by 2030.

Currently, coal, oil, and nuclear power provide 60 percent of New England’s energy mix. The state’s goal established with the Baldacci Administration will boost Maine’s use of wind power for electricity production to 2,000 Megawatts by 2015 and 3,000 Megawatts by 2020.

430 Megawatts are already permitted. One megawatt is enough electricity to serve 800 to 1,000 homes.