The strain on New England’s energy grid

Potential problems with New England’s energy grid.


On February 5, 2012, the Globe Magazine published staff writer Neil Swidey’s story “What If the Lights Go Out,” a chilling account of potential problems with New England’s energy grid. Chief among them was the region’s growing reliance on natural gas — used to power generators that provide more than half of our electricity and heat countless homes — which was straining the capacity of delivery pipelines. “The issue that keeps us up at night here,” explained the CEO of ISO New England, which manages the region’s electric grid, “is the dependency on natural gas.”

Two years after he made that comment to Swidey, the CEO and his team no doubt aren’t sleeping any better. This winter’s historic low temperatures have increased energy prices and nearly maxed out pipelines. In January, to try and keep up with spiking demand, ISO New England asked a New Hampshire plant to fire up several turbines to produce electricity — turbines that burn expensive jet fuel.

In response to all the challenges, governors from the six New England states recently made the unprecedented move of proposing a plan to expand the capacity of the natural gas pipelines, bulk up the system of power lines, and improve access to renewable energy sources (which would be paid for by increased tariffs). If the plan is approved, the goal is to have more free-flowing natural gas by the winter of 2017.

To read “What If the Lights Go Out,” click here.