Biden, New England Energy Goals Could Soon Change Regional Energy Mix

Apr 19, 2021

President Joe Biden’s energy goals will make significant changes to where New England gets its power. How states choose to embrace these goals as part of their climate change plans could shake up the region's energy market over the next decade. This week, all eyes are on Biden, who will convene world leaders for an Earth Day summit.

The Biden administration has ambitious goals: 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 with some poised for New England waters.

The U.S. has 17 leasing areas in the Atlantic Ocean, a handful of turbines already feeding the grid off Rhode Island and even more potential wind farms in the queue for federal approval. One off Massachusetts, Vineyard Wind, could move forward this week.

Amanda Lefton, the new director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the federal agency, which scouts and plans for clean energy off the coast, will review up to 10 more projects later this year.

“The United States offshore wind industry has the potential to significantly contribute to the nation's power mix, bringing clean energy to the grid, creating family-supporting jobs and helping us confront the current climate crisis,” Lefton said during a meeting with New York and New Jersey representatives about five new lease areas selected by the agency.

Biden’s goals seek to create 80,000 jobs with more than $12 billion per year in capital investments to the regional electric grid.

Ann George, spokesperson for ISO New England, the nonprofit operator and wholesale market seller of electricity in the region, said they see an opportunity as federal and many state governments plan to lower emissions and address climate change.

“We only take into consideration what's kind of hardwired in,” George said. “We know, though, that legislators are every year thinking about these things and potentially moving them up even further so every year we take a look at what the state policies are and incorporate that into our forecasting.”

Biden wants the U.S. to cut carbon emissions by 50%. Rhode Island wants to go zero-carbon by 2030; Connecticut by 2040; and Maine by 2045; Vermont wants to shift to 90% renewable energy, and Massachusetts 80% renewable by 2050. New Hampshire has no net-zero goal and seeks to reach 25% renewable energy by 2025.

Only 8% of energy in New England today comes from renewable energy sources.

“It's going to take a while to get to a point where renewable resources are providing most of that baseload service,” said George, referring to the energy that has to be there all the time to meet the minimum level of demand on an electrical grid.

Most states' goals seek to decarbonize that baseload with clean energy investment and incentives to reduce greenhouse gases.

Transportation makes up at least 40% of those pollutants. To that end, a dozen Northeastern states — including New England except for New Hampshire and Maine — have signaled support for a joint plan to reduce the region’s vehicle emissions by up to 25% over 10 years. The Transportation and Climate Initiative would use a cap and trade model to limit carbon emissions and require gas suppliers to buy carbon credits for contributing to excess pollution. Revenues would be invested in clean transportation projects.

George said until then the grid would need fossil fuels to hold them over for at least the next decade or more.

“What we have are what we've referred to as balancing resources: those resources that are there to help when either the wind isn't blowing, or the sun isn't shining,” she said. However, George said large-scale clean energy goals can be achieved through competitive pricing and states shifting to renewable energy.

Mike Ausere, vice president of business development at Eversource, one of the region's largest utilities, said the region will cut emissions 50% with offshore wind alone by the time we get to 2050. “But that's not that far away,” he said

He said the shift in resources to power New England should especially help lower electricity prices in the winter, when home heating needs can strain natural gas supplies and costs can spike.

“When we're seeing onshore that real energy crunch, that's when wind speeds are the highest and the most consistent offshore here in New England,” Ausere said. “And so when we project the expected wind production off these off the wind farms, it actually peaks during the winter.”

And solar and wind — with better battery storage options — could help power air conditioners during the summer — which will get hotter due to climate change, even as emissions drop.