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New England power trade group questions decision on Northern Pass grid hook-up

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 07. 2014 8:40PM

Did the Northern Pass hydroelectric project get a free pass from the independent system operators of the regional power grid?

The trade association that represents New England power plants thinks so, and is exploring its options to see if a Dec. 31 decision by ISO-New England can be modified or reversed.

The president of the New England Power Generators Association says his members were shocked that the ISO Operations Department determined that Northern Pass, if built, could hook up to the grid without affecting reliability, despite opposition to the ruling by the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL) Reliability Committee.

Dan Dolan, president of the generators association, said the action by ISO-NE is unprecedented given the Dec. 23 vote of the committee, whose 300-plus members represent a variety of stakeholders in New England electricity markets.

Dolan said he could find no examples of such a move in the recent past, and could not understand why ISO would override its own advisory committee.

An ISO official said the Northern Pass project, designed to bring 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England grid via New Hampshire, is unlike most projects submitted for review, given its size. The amount of energy from Northern Pass would equal the output of the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant, one of the largest generators on the grid.

“It is unusual for the Reliability Committee to withhold support for the system engineering analysis of a project,” said ISO spokeswoman Marcia Bloomberg, “but it’s also unusual for elective transmission projects of this magnitude and potential market impacts to come before the committee.”

Seeking tougher terms

Seabrook Station owner Nextera Energy led the charge on the Reliability Committee to impose tougher terms on Northern Pass than those recommended by the ISO engineering staff.

Nextera offered an amendment to the staff recommendations that, among other things, would have required technical details about the equipment Northern Pass intends to use. That amendment failed with 48 percent of the committee in favor.

The committee then turned to the staff recommendation and voted 55 percent in favor, which fell short of the two-thirds vote needed for committee approval, according to ISO rules.

The Reliability Committee is comprised of six sectors, each with approximately 17 percent of the voting power — generation, transmission, alternative resources, suppliers, the publicly owned sector and end users.

All of the generation sector and most of the end-user sector voted against the ISO recommendation, while all of the transmission sector and most of the publicly owned sector were in favor.

“One reason the voting is so complicated is to ensure that no single sector can block something from happening,” Dolan said. “The two-thirds majority requires much broader buy-in from the overall community.”

The process has worked well, he said, which is why the Dec. 31 vote came as a surprise to many players in the electricity market.

“What’s more striking, beyond the fact that this has never been done before,” he said, “is the fact that it is now being done for a project that is not even needed for reliability. ”

Marketplace concerns

The opposition to the ISO staff recommendation was not intended to block Northern Pass from hooking into the grid, if it does get built, according to Jim Monahan, vice president of the Dupont Group in Concord, which represents NEPGA.

“The power generators weren’t opposed to the interconnection,” he said. “They just didn’t feel they had enough information about it to recommend approval. We’re just looking for a level playing field. If you were going to build a 1,200-megawatt, gas-fired power plant in Manchester, you wouldn’t be able to say to ISO, ’We’ll tell you later how it’s going to work.’”

Bloomberg pointed out that the ISO determination in favor of Northern Pass came with conditions.

“No one raised a reliability issue that was not addressed by the conditions imposed by the ISO in the determination we issued Dec. 31,” she said. “Among those conditions is a requirement for the project developer to conduct further reliability studies when it has selected the specific equipment it will use, and a requirement to bear the cost to address any adverse reliability impacts that those future studies may identify.”

Northern Pass spokesperson Mike Skelton said opposition to the ISO ruling has more to do with the marketplace than any technical concerns.

“NEPGA represents the merchant natural gas power plants that will have to compete against the clean, low-cost energy delivered by Northern Pass. Their comments on the project must be viewed through that prism,” he said. “We appreciate the comprehensive and detailed analysis ISO undertook in reviewing our proposal and their approval demonstrates that Northern Pass can reliably interconnect with the region’s energy grid.”

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