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The winter energy crunch, what it costs, and what it will take to fix it

LNG delivered during a cold spell in January 2015. (GDF Suez)

Connecticut’s first-ever Comprehensive Energy Strategy, released 10 years ago, was built around natural gas. Gas was cheap, plentiful and cleaner than oil or coal. It was touted as a bridge from those fuels to renewables for electric power, and better than oil for heating. The CES set out to convert hundreds of thousands of homes to gas heat.

But that strategy came with a big red flag, now all too familiar.

“The interstate pipeline system that supplies Connecticut’s natural gas is already constrained, and there is limited liquified natural gas (LNG) capacity in Connecticut. At current use rates, there will not be enough interstate pipeline, storage, or peaking capacity to serve a large-scale addition of new customers,” the CES said. “Underestimating and purchasing too little capacity could lead to reliability issues (i.e., a shortfall in supply during peak winter season).”

And that is precisely what happened. Ten years later we are facing another winter of price-spikinghand-wringing and finger-pointing over the current shortfall.

Only this time it’s worse, thanks to a cutback in fuel production during the pandemic and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

If there were any doubts, just look at what happened over the extremely cold Christmas weekend. During peak hours on Christmas eve, some power generators experienced outages. Expected imports of power — apparently from Canada — were unavailable. ISO-New England, which runs the regional grid, had to declare an energy alert and for a short time wholesale energy prices on the spot market hit more than $2,800. Prices above $100 are considered elevated.

At a nearly three-hour meeting Monday, officials from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, representatives from Eversource and about 160 others, began discussing the energy price crisis — which is region-wide — and looking for ways states can pool efforts to find solutions, especially when it comes to procuring energy.

But with different procedures and energy policies in each state, a common solution was not apparent. And, even if reached, still wouldn’t address the longstanding supply problem.

3 comments

Michael McGuire January 12, 2023 at 1:21 pm

Laborious read.

As predicted the cop-out in this case is Putin. And much of the data and arguments in the article seem to cover up the real issue – poor planning due to lack of information and lack of political will.

Consider this – If the United States was energy independent in 2019, and we have huge amounts of natural gas only 200 miles away from the CT border in the Marcellus Shales, why are we blaming Putin for the price increases?

Answer – because our Democratic leadership (Federal, State and Local) over the past decade has been the main proponent of the Green issue and since elected democrats have to tow the party line or be ousted, we get such bad policy. Open, messy, public debate which allows for the harsh light of public scrutiny, like we just saw on the Speaker of the House issue last week, is not allowed in the Democratic party.

Most of the rest of the article is coverup via finger pointing and rambling discussion of policies that don’t address the real problem. Issues and points not covered in this article but should be –

Why are the NE Democrat lead states (CT, RI, MA, VT) allowing NY State to hold most of NE as energy hostages? Where is the fight? Where is the push back? Where are/were Blumenthal, Murphy and Himes on this issue? It is the only viable solution over the next decade and beyond since the Green tech is not up to snuff.

Why are we pursuing renewables when we have not secured the base load (the minimum power needed to cover NE energy needs) prior to making the move to renewables? Cart before horse?

Are the renewables viable, and are they really clean? You should look up the environmental catastrophe that is battery production, particularly for the new lithium types. Or the fact that solar is only effective in a swath of the US in the SW. Anywhere else it’s just not feasible.

Why do we need to take on all this risk while the majority of the industrialized world only pays lip service to moving to green standards?

Issues we should all consider – Where is the debate on this? Where is the in-depth, hard hitting, journalism?

Bryan Meek January 13, 2023 at 8:52 am

@Mike. You don’t give them enough credit for what they are good enough at. It will take a few turns, but they’ll come up with an optimal level of new, hidden taxes on those that can still barely afford their proclivity to tilt at windmills. Then they’ll give handouts to the voting base to keep them barely under water. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually this system goes bust, but when your horizon is only 2 years, who really cares?

Michael McGuire January 14, 2023 at 9:32 am

@Brian

That is why the taxpayers of Norwalk are looking to you to shed some light on what is going on. It seems to be a theme these recent days. Glad you are in the CC.

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