We’re entering the less glamorous phase of the global warming fight—and perhaps the most important one. You can help, come to the rally on Wednesday, March 16 at the State House.
By now most thinking people are aware that we face an unprecedented threat—hurricanes and wildfires are rattling us all, even here in New England where, so far, we’ve mostly just gotten rain and smoke. Most rational politicians are talking a better game—even James Inhofe, the infamous Senator with a snowball, said last fall he’d never called climate change a hoax. (A claim somewhat undermined by the fact that he wrote a book called “The Greatest Hoax” about “the global warming conspiracy.”)
But talk doesn’t cut carbon. For that to happen, we actually have to move around the enormous pieces of furniture that are in the way. Much of that furniture is old and outdated, but all of it is heavy—it’s going to take an effort. Take, as the perfect example, the policies of what’s known as ISO New England, the “Independent Service Operator” that runs the electric grid for the region.
The ISO has two mandates: “Ensure Energy Reliability” by managing electric power generation and transmission so that everyone in New England has electricity every minute, with no interruptions, and “Plan for Future Capacity” by contracting three years ahead to ensure there is always enough electric power for everyone.
Unfortunately, it is apparent that ISO also has an unspoken mission: “Preserve the Profitability” of fossil fuel investments made by power providers and the transmission utilities. And this unspoken mandate gets in the way of the most important task that the entire world faces: stop burning fossil fuels.
Scientists have told us that if we have any chance of meeting the targets we set in Paris just six years ago, then we need to cut emissions in half by 2030. So, let’s imagine a natural gas electric plant built in (for example) 2011. It was designed to last for decades, but wind power has gotten cheap enough that we could easily replace it by 2025, cutting its service time in half, and sending emissions to zero. That would be good for all living things, but it would reduce the profits of the banks that gave loans to the power companies. It would definitely eliminate stock dividends that Wall Street shareholders are expecting in the 2030s. And so, to prevent this “distortion” of the free market, ISO has rigged the rules of the power contracting game to ensure fossil fuel providers continue to get lucrative contracts.
The rigging works like this: ISO-NE has a 12-person Board of Directors, but major decisions must be ratified by a powerful advisory body called the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL). NEPOOL was theoretically designed to represent all stakeholders in the New England electricity market. NEPOOL uses a group voting system. There are six stakeholder groups and when decisions are made, voting is done by group. The 12 Power Generating companies get one vote, the five Transmission Utilities get one vote. Oh, and the 41 “End User” representatives get one vote. That’s the groups and offices—the Massachusetts AG, say, or the Sierra Club—that represent the common interest and speak up for the future. You can guess how much good their single vote can do.
In fact, you don’t need to guess. You could just look at the numbers: With the power companies and electric utilities dominating decision making, ISO staff and management consists of lawyers, engineers, economists, and other specialists who are entirely oriented toward cost-effective management of the existing, fossil fuel based, electric system. That’s a big reason why, in 2020, the New England electric grid was 52.5 percent natural gas, and only 3.8 percent wind and 2.2 percent solar.
ISO’s dismal record at transitioning to renewable power has not gone unnoticed. In the fall of 2020, the governors of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont issued a white paper that strongly criticized ISO. They said, in part: “The gap between our current system and the system we need to achieve deep decarbonization is marked. Today’s wholesale electricity market and organizational structures are based on a market design that is misaligned with our States’ clean energy mandates and thereby fails to recognize the full value of our State’s ratepayer funded investments in clean energy resources.”
Community and environmental groups around New England are rallying to encourage their governors to keep the pressure on ISO-NE. We understand that it’s not a glamorous call to arms. But it’s an absolutely necessary one. The furniture is happy where it is, and unlikely to move itself.
Help us keep the pressure up – come to a Fix the Grid rally on the State House steps:
Wednesday, March 16, at 4:30PM. SING, MARCH, SPEAK OUT
Register Here: actionnetwork.org/events/fix-the-grid-rally-boston/
Want to Help Organize the Event? Contact Monte Pearson at: [email protected]
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