May 23, 2019

Guest Column: Reliability concerns of renewable energy overblown

By David Ismay

Vermont has long been a national leader in addressing climate change using the power of local action. And we have reaped the benefits: cleaner air and water, healthier cities, and stable and affordable energy.

But the progress Vermont has made, and Vermonters have paid for, is under threat, and this time from a surprising source: ISO-New England, the operator of our regional electricity grid.

Echoing efforts by the Trump administration to give handouts to the dying coal and nuclear power industries, ISO officials have been touring New England this year warning policymakers and reporters that only drastic action, such as subsidies for fossil-fuel power plants, will keep our system reliable.

This is troubling not only because ISO is supposed to be independent, but also because it knows better. Its own data and analysis proves the opposite: The clean power and energy efficiency we are already buying will keep the lights on and our homes warm during harsh winters, guaranteeing year-round reliability and energy diversity, all at a low cost to consumers.

Back in January, ISO issued a report, developed without input from state governments or outside experts, about something it calls “fuel security.” It painted a seemingly bleak picture of our energy future, particularly in especially cold winters like this past one. But ISO’s analysis was fundamentally flawed, failing to include in its baseline scenario a host of successful state-level clean energy and efficiency programs and the positive impacts they’ll have on the power grid in the coming years.

That led a large group of stakeholders — including private power companies, state consumer advocates, state attorneys general, energy developers and environmental groups — to ask ISO to rerun its analysis using the following assumptions, which reflect what’s already happening in the region:

— New England states will continue to meet their existing mandates that require increasingly higher percentages of electricity come from new clean, renewable sources including solar and wind power.

— Energy efficiency savings, increases in solar power, and decreases in demand for electricity will continue as ISO itself has forecast for the next 10 years.

— Existing regional liquefied natural gas markets will remain profitable and reliable sources of on-demand winter energy, as they have for the last several years.

When ISO re-ran its analysis with this corrected scenario, the change in its results was night-and-day. In all cases and even in the harshest of winters, ISO’s model forecasts zero reliability concerns and zero rolling blackouts, all without any new pipelines or other expensive new gas infrastructure.

The bottom line: As long as New England states stay on track to meet clean energy and energy efficiency goals, we’ll be just fine. But inexplicably, ISO’s “the sky is falling” message hasn’t changed.

Vermonters deserve better. There has never been a more important time for us to get these basic facts right.

As Gov. Phil Scott kicks off his own energy affordability initiative and hosts the annual meeting of Northeast governors and eastern Canadian premieres here in August, rejecting costly subsidies for pipelines and old fossil fuel-burning power plants should be a cornerstone of his efforts.

David Ismay is a senior staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, online at

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