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Grid Operator Warns Deep Blue States Their Plan to Rely on Solar and Wind Batteries Has a Fatal Flaw

DCNF(DCNF)—The Independent System Operator-New England (ISO-NE) is warning that the batteries pushed by blue states in the region to prepare the grid for increased solar and wind generation may have significant trouble recharging in low temperatures.

The grid operator could end up spending about $1 billion each year on transmission until 2050 to prepare the grid for the green transition being pushed by deep blue states in the region like Massachusetts and Connecticut, according to ISO-NE’s 2050 Transmission Study. Battery systems comprise about 45% of ISO-NE’s in-progress transmission projects, but ISO-NE warned in its Regional Electricity Outlook that the batteries could “struggle to recharge during the winter months.”

At the federal and state levels, elected Democrats are pushing hard to phase out fossil fuel-fired power infrastructure and replace it with sources of green energy like wind and solar. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — the states that are served by ISO-NE — all have green energy mandates of this nature, albeit with slight variations in timelines, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Modeling in the Future Grid Reliability Study found that, under some scenarios in a potential 2040 power system, the battery fleet may be depleted quickly and then struggle to recharge during the winter months,” the Regional Electricity Outlook warns. “This is a time of year when batteries may be needed most to fill supply gaps during periods of high demand due to cold weather, as well as periods of low production from wind and solar resources. Daily average charge levels remain higher in spring, when demand for electricity from the grid is lower and the region sees significant production from solar installations.”

By 2040, the grid operator is anticipating that an additional 28,000 Megawatts (MW) of solar power and an additional 17,000 MW of offshore wind capacity will have come online. Especially in the context of intermittent generation from sources like solar and wind, batteries are needed to balance supply and demand, storing and dispatching energy to the grid as needed after receiving charge from the source of generation, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

In 2022, natural gas provided about 45% of New England’s electricity generation, but ISO-NE is projecting that figure will drop to approximately 12% in 2040. In the same time frame, the share of New England’s power coming from green energy generation like solar and wind is expected to jump from 11% to 56%.

A widespread failure of batteries to recharge in harsh winter conditions, which are known to occur in New England, could significantly strain the grid or even cause supply shortfalls.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) identified potential grid reliability problems in the ISO-NE region for the winter of 2023-2024, concluding that the region faced elevated blackout risks in the event of colder-than-usual conditions. In June 2023, Mark Christie — a commissioner for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — warned Congress of the potentially “catastrophic consequences” awaiting America’s grid reliability if the U.S. does not stop phasing out fossil fuel infrastructure before green energy is capable of replacing retired generation capacity.

ISO-NE did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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