In the wake of a controversial decision last week by the region’s energy grid that advocates say discourages wind and solar development, Attorney General Maura Healey and others are sounding an alarm, asking the federal regulator to intervene.
The decision by grid operator ISO-New England would allow the continuation for two years of a rule that Healey and others say hurts the expansion of renewable energy in the region, all at a time when states are racing to cut emissions and switch off of fossil fuels.
“My office remains opposed to this delay and will work to get it reversed,” Healey wrote on Twitter. “We cannot make this process more difficult for clean energy projects at time when our state should be doubling down on its transition.”
The state Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs is also reviewing last week’s vote, according to a spokesman, and will be taking a look at how it may impact the state and regional pursuits of clean energy.
Gubernatorial candidate Danielle Allen issued a statement saying that the decision by the grid was an example of “climate leadership is getting sabotaged at every turn by fossil fuel interests driving decisions behind closed doors” and called on other statewide candidates to join her in asking the federal regulator to step in.
The controversy lies in the decision by ISO-NE to delay removing the so-called “minimum offer price rule,” which essentially prevents most state-subsidized energy generators, such as wind and solar plants, from bidding into the potentially lucrative market for providing backup electricity at times of peak demand.
Matthew Kakley, a spokesman for ISO-NE, said the operator stands by this decision, saying it was a prudent one to protect reliability of the grid. “This proposal, which was supported by a broad group of stakeholders, does not block the development of clean energy,” he said. Instead, any delays could more appropriately be attributed to issues around siting, legal challenges and a lack of investment, he said.
He also points out that some amount of renewables will be allowed to enter the market—some 700 megawatts allowed to bid over the course of two years—but advocates say the transition to renewables needs to be happening much faster. They also said that ISO-NE failed to provide data or analysis to back up its assertion that removing the rule immediately would threaten grid reliability.
“Continuation of this unnecessary policy would create a structural delay in the inclusion of energy assets supplying affordable, sustainable, locally generated power into our capacity markets,” wrote Joseph Curtatone, the new head of the Northeast Clean Energy Council, in a letter to state attorneys general across New England. “In essence, we are at risk of falling further behind in a race we’re already losing.”
Curtatone was urging the attorneys general to ask officials at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the proposal from ISO-NE.
If that happens, it won’t be an entirely unexpected outcome. Earlier this year, the commission’s chair Richard Glick and Commissioner Allison Clements addressed the minimum offer pricing rule at ISO-NE, saying it “appears to act as a barrier to competition, insulating incumbent generators from having to compete with certain new resources that may be able to provide capacity at lower cost.”
The end result of the rule, Glick and Clements wrote, “is doubly bad for consumers, as they will be forced to pay for more capacity than is actually needed, and to do so at a higher price than they should,” because of the advantage that the rule gives to existing fossil fuel generators.
Once ISO-NE formally sends its proposal to the federal regulator, the commission will solicit feedback and then decide whether to accept the proposal to allow the minimum offer price rule to remain in place for another two years.