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Changes urged for fueling power grid

Stephen G. Whitley of New York ISO (at left) and Gordon van Welie of ISO New England (at right), with colleagues from the Northeast at Friday’s energy conference.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Stephen G. Whitley of New York ISO (at left) and Gordon van Welie of ISO New England (at right), with colleagues from the Northeast at Friday’s energy conference.

The leaders of two major power grid operators in the Northeast said Friday that the region needs a more diverse mix of fuel to generate power, and more pipeline and transmission capacity to bring the energy here.

At an energy conference in Boston Friday hosted by their organizations, the chief executives of the New England and New York independent systems operators, or ISOs, said the region is increasingly dependent on natural gas, and risks price jumps and power interruptions if it does not find ways to tap other sources.

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Among the possibilities is hydroelectric power from Quebec. But New England does not have the transmission capacity needed to transport substantial amounts of the power from north of the border.

Still, Gordon van Welie, chief executive of ISO New England, said he will leave it to the market to determine whether Canadian hydroelectricity should play a bigger role in the region.

“The whole idea behind the competitive market is that the most competitive resources will be the ones that supply the energy to the region,’’ he said. “So the whole point of it really is that you have investors taking the risks of those investments, and to the extent that hydro is competitive it will be a player.”

As he has done in the past, van Welie advocated for changes to the wholesale electricity market to give power generators more incentive to keep fuel supplies on hand, rather than buying them as needed. In times of high demand, such as winter cold snaps, power generators face limited supplies on spot markets, leading to soaring prices that are eventually passed onto consumers.

Van Welie said the region needs to expand pipelines and transmission to ease the supply constraints.

“The region’s going to pay for this infrastructure constraint one way or another,” he said. “We’re either going to pay for it through the electricity energy markets and through high gas prices, or we’re going to have to pay for it by making an investment in gas pipelines, or we’re going to pay for it in the end by building transmission lines somewhere to go and get power.”

Stephen G. Whitley, chief executive of New York ISO, said he is “concerned about having all our eggs in oil and gas” in New York City and the difficulties of moving hydro and wind power into that market.

Governor Lincoln Chafee said he is interested in bringing electricity generated by large-scale hydropower projects into Rhode Island because the power is renewable, dependable, and affordable.

Thomas King, president of National Grid in the United States, said he believes the region must seriously consider bringing more hydropower into the area. National Grid is a British company. “We have such a big resource north of us in Canada,” King said. “We think it’s a critical source that we need to tap into.”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.
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